Advent: War Cries for the Savior
Wednesday Evening, 10 December 2014
A Homily by Marq Toombs

There is a mountain in the Alps that stands high on the border between Switzerland and Italy. Its summit SONY DSCstands 14,692 ft above sea level, making it one of the highest peaks in the Alps. Its four steep faces rise above the surrounding glaciers and face the four compass points — north, south, east, west. It is an impressive, awe-inspiring mountain that draws thousands of tourists and climbers every year.

Do you know its name? It is called the Matterhorn.

So far as we know, the Matterhorn was one of the last great Alpine peaks to be climbed by man. Edward Whymper was the first man to reach the summit. In 1865 he led a team on a two day trek to the top. But the thrill of victory was quenched by the agony of defeat. Only an hour after leaving the summit, four of the team members fell to their death on the descent. It is estimated that over 500 alpinists have died on the Matterhorn since the first climb in 1865, making it one of the deadliest peaks in the Alps.[1]

You might say that the Matterhorn is a horn of destruction. But there is another horn that matters, and it is a horn of salvation.

Zechariah sang his war cry for the Savior, he said:

“Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has visited and redeemed his people and has raised up a horn of salvation for us.” (Luke 1:68-69)

ramAll throughout the Holy Scriptures horns were used for a variety of practical reasons. A horn of oil was used to anoint kings. A horn was used to assemble the community for worship, and to muster the troops for war.

Horns were also used for symbolic purposes as well: horns symbolized power, glory, and mercy.

“This symbol was based on the fact that in the animal kingdom the side and condition of an animal’s horns is indicative of its power of its strength, rank, and health.”[2]

Horns symbolized power. To lift up the horn meant to bestow power (Ps 92:10). To cut off the horn meant to remove power (Ps 75:10). That is why Zechariah praised God for raising up a horn of salvation. It means that God raised up a strong and mighty king for us; a savior to deliver us from our enemies.

Horns symbolized glory. The prophets said that “the Lord’s splendor is like light and shines from his hand.” Literally, it horns from his hand. (Hab 3:4) After Moses encountered God his face shone. The word for shone means horned. The glory of the Lord “grew horns” on his face (Ex 34:29-30 co 2 Cor 3). That is why Moses is often portrayed with horns in art work. This strange yet glorious phenomenon scared the community, so he covered his “horned face” with a veil.

Horns symbolized mercy. Both the altar of sacrifice and the altar of incense were square and each corner of had a horn that pointed upwards. Blood was smeared on the horns of the altar of sacrifice. Smoke shrouded the horns of the altar of incense. Of course, the horns on the altars represented the power and the glory of God to judge sinners; but they also represented the mercy of God for sinners.

In the OT a man named Adonijah flees for his life and seeks refuge in the temple. He grabs hold of the horns of the altar of sacrifice in hope that the angry king — his brother — might spare his life (1 Kings 1:50-51). In the NT Zechariah the priest enters the temple to offer incense as the prayers of the people. An angel appeared to him standing beside the horns of the altar of incense. Later on Zechariah sings, “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has raised up a horn of salvation for us.”

That horn of salvation is Jesus Christ. He is the sacrificial ram caught in the thorn bush on the mountain (Gen 22). He is the festal sacrifice who is bound with cords to the horns of the altar (Psa 118:27). He is the high priest who who offers the sacrifice (Heb 10). He is the slain lamb at the center of the throne (Rev 5). He is the lion-lamb with seven horns — for his power, glory, and mercy are perfect. He is the shepherd-king who rules the nations with a rod of iron.

In CS Lewis’ classic story The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, Father Christmas appears in Narnia and bestows gifts upon the Pevensie children. Susan received a horn with this instruction: “when you put this horn to your lips and blow it, then, wherever you are, I think help of some kind will come to you.” Later on, when she blows the horn, help comes to her. Once, in the form of her brother Peter, and later in the form of the great Lion King, Aslan.

Now, as great as it would be to blow a horn and have some kind of help come to you, I can tell you that there is a horn greater than that horn; and when it blows someone better than Peter or Aslan will come to help you in your time of need.

In the gospel story, we are not the ones who blow the horn. God is the one who raises up the horn of salvation to his lips and he blows the horn to gather us, to assemble us for worship and muster us for war. God raises the horn of salvation for us, to save us from our enemies and seat us in heavenly places. In Christ, the true and better Father Christmas gives us the horn of salvation, blows the horn, and raises up the horn. He does for us what we cannot do for ourselves.

You have heard the expression “Grab the Bull by the Horns.” This expression originated in the American West (Texas?) where it was a common, but dangerous, practice to wrestle with steers. This was part of the everyday working life of ranchers and cowhands. To control a bull the cowhand would first have to catch it. Trying to grab the neck or legs of a bull was too dangerous. The only solution was to grab the bull by the horns, twist its head around, and steer it to the ground. Over time, “grab the bull by the horns” came to mean confront a problem head on. (Tim Bowen)

Tonight, I urge you to confront your sins head on and grab the horn by the blood and body of Jesus Christ.

“Let go of all your works, and prayers, and tears, and feelings, and church-goings, and sacraments, and ministers, and experiences. Look alone to Jesus. Look at once to him who on the bloody tree made expiation, and who bids you look, and you shall live.” (Based on Spurgeon’s sermon The Horns of the Altar.)

Lay hold of that for which Christ lays hold of you.

The Matterhorn is a horn of destruction. Yet men are drawn to it, and driven to tackle it for a momentary  rush of adrenaline and an ever-fading glory.

But the Messiah’s horn is a horn of salvation. God draws men to it, and he drives them to take hold of it freely and without fear for an eternal weight of glory.

The Matterhorn matters not at all, but the Messiah’s horn matters all the way up and all the way down.

The Matterhorn may only be approached by the strongest and most skilled climbers. But the Messiah’s horn may only be approached by the weakest and least skilled people. By those who are alone, broken, cracked, desperate.

It is estimated that a multitude of sinners that no one can count (Rev 7:9) have come to life on the Messiah’s horn since he was first raised up, making it the most life-giving horn in all the world.

That horn of salvation has been poured out, laid low, and raised up by God for you.

Even now the horn blows and calls you to come.

Tonight, if you hear its call, draw near to his throne of grace with confidence, and freely take hold of the horns of the altarthe horn of salvation, that you may receive mercy and find grace to help you in your times of need.

To our merciful God be the power and the glory forever and ever. Amen


[1] Facts about the Matterhorn —

[2] Ryken, Leland. Dictionary of Biblical Imagery. Downers Grove  Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 1998. Print.