Zechariah has not spoken since the time he encountered the angel Gabriel. Gabriel shared with Zechariah that his wife Elizabeth, though barren and past childbearing age, would give birth to a son and his name would be called John. The time for the fulfillment of Gabriel’s prediction has now come to pass, Elizabeth has given birth and with friends and relatives gathered around on the eighth day for his circumcision and naming, Elizabeth announces that her son will be named John. Those gathered balk as they say, “There is no one among your relatives who has this name” (Lk 1:61).
There may also be some hesitancy because John, or יוֹחָנָן, Yôḥanan in Hebrew, means one who is graced by God. The people may be wondering who this child might become. Then they turn to Zechariah, who writes on a tablet that “John is his name.” Zechariah confirms Elizabeth’s words and “Immediately his mouth was opened, his tongue freed, and he spoke blessing God” (Lk 1:63-64).
Filled with the Holy Spirit, Zechariah speaks what we call today the Benedictus or Canticle of Zechariah, the beginning lines of which read: “Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel; for he has come to his people and set them free. He has raised up for us a mighty Savior, born of the house of his servant David” (Lk 1:68-69).
Zechariah did not proclaim that John was the Messiah. John became the herald of the Messiah. He prepared the way for the coming of the Lord. The Benedictus, like the Magnificat, is a song of great promise. This is why the Church proclaims that they are to be prayed every day in the recitation of the Book of Christian Prayer or the Liturgy of the Hours. We are living in the time of its fulfillment. The year 2020 A.D. does not stand for after the death of Jesus, it stands for anno domini, in the year of our Lord. We live in times of great joy, for no matter what the external circumstances our Lord Jesus the Christ is present with us, to accompany us, to give us guidance and strength!
To counter violence, war, polarization, endless forms and acts of dehumanization, fear, and growing anxiety, we will celebrate again this Christmas the reality that we are an alleluia people, a people of great joy. We are preparing in these final days of Advent to remember and celebrate again the reason for the season, the fulfillment of the Magnificat and the Benedictus, the birth of our Savior.
Each and every day, we are invited to celebrate with great joy the reality that Jesus has come to set us free. May we be open to and receive this gift of freedom this Christmas Season and turn away from our pride and the sins that tempt to enslave us. Jesus who granted us his mercy by being willing to enter into our chaos and bring us healing and reconciliation, invites us from his humble beginnings, wrapped in swaddling clothes, and resting in straw, to do the same. Let us put into practice and live out our heritage, our faith, and our hope, and be a people, who even in the midst of darkness, inhumanity, and pandemic, have not only seen a great light but bask in and embrace it, so to share the light of Jesus with concrete acts of mercy, joy, and love.
Photo: Preparing for Christmas by enjoying making cookies last year with my mother.