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. We live in the year 2021 soon to be 2022 A.D. These two letters do 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 as we participate in ushering in the kingdom of God!
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 resist grasping and clinging to that which keeps us bound and instead be open to and prepare to receive this gift of freedom this Christmas. By doing so, we can turn away from our pride and the sins that tempt to enslave us. Jesus entered into our chaos to bring us healing and reconciliation, and invites us from his humble and vulnerable beginnings, wrapped in swaddling clothes, and resting in straw, to also enter the chaos of one another.
This is how our life has meaning, when we care for one another. We are living in the year of our Lord means something when we don’t listen passively or worse indifferently to the retelling of these final Advent and the upcoming Christmas narratives, but allow ourselves to be drawn ever deeper into them so as to be transformed and inspired to put into practice our heritage, our faith, and our hope. Even in the midst of darkness, inhumanity, and pandemic, the light of Christ is in our midst. May we bask in and embrace it, so as to share the light of Jesus with concrete acts of understanding, mercy, joy, and love all the while seeking to bridge chasms of divide by engaging in dialogue and providing opportunities for reconciliation.
Photo: Preparing for Christmas as we enjoy making cookies two Christmas’s ago with my mother. Dialogue often happens best while preparing and sharing meals together.