December 24, 2012
Dear brothers and sisters,
The good news this morning is the Canticle of Zechariah or the Benedictus in Luke 1:67-79. The Benedictus is recited every morning at prayer.
Then Zechariah his [John’s] father, filled with the holy Spirit, prophesied, saying:
“Blessed by the Lord, the God of Israel, for he has visited and brought redemption to his people.
He has raised up a horn for our salvation within the house of David his servant,
even as he promised through the mouth of his holy prophets from of old:
salvation from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us,
to show mercy to our fathers and to be mindful of his holy covenant
and of the oath he swore to Abraham our father,
and to grant us that, rescued from the hand of enemies,
without fear we might worship him in holiness and righteousness before him all our days.
And you, child, will be called prophet of the Most High,
for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways,
to give his people knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins,
because of the tender mercy of our God by which the daybreak from on high will visit us
to shine on those who sit in darkness and death’s shadow,
to guide our feet into the path of peace.”
The priest Zechariah had been struck mute by the archangel Gabriel because he had not believed the message that he and Elizabeth would bear a son in their old age. On the eighth day after John’s birth relatives and friends gathered to rejoice with them. Assuming that the parents would name the infant after his father, they were surprised when Elizabeth told them that his name was to be John. They turned to Zechariah for confirmation. When Zechariah wrote ‘John’ on a tablet as Gabriel had instructed him, his speech returned and he blessed God. All in attendance were struck with fear and asked, “What, then, will this child be?” This canticle is Zechariah’ response.
In announcing John’s conception Gabriel had told Zechariah that John would be filled with the holy Spirit even in the womb and would turn many of Israel’s children to God, to make them fit for Him. Had I been Zechariah I would have wondered during those nine months just what all this meant. In prayer and reflection I would have asked God for insight. What would my role be in preparing my son for his task? I would have turned Gabriel’s words over and over again trying to discern a clear meaning. God’s answer came suddenly and unexpectedly as it often does. As Zechariah opened his mouth the holy Spirit took hold of him and uttered the words of this hymn. Zechariah heard the word of God at the same time as his relatives and neighbors. John was to be a prophet, teaching the children of Israel about God’s salvation by the forgiveness of their sins.
Franciscan Richard Rohr in The Good News According to Luke reminds me of the meaning of baptism, which was the symbolic means by which John conveyed God’s forgiveness and salvation. “For the Christian, baptism is not ‘something’; it is ‘everything.’ Everything is given at the beginning. It takes the rest of your life to realize what was told you at your baptism. The gift — ‘You are a child of God’ — is given all at once, everything at the beginning.” In the beginning — at the moment of my conception, at my birth, at my baptism, at the first hour of this day — all that I am called to be is present; all the gifts that I need to be what I am called to be have been given to me. The rest is a process of discovery and action or discovery through action. That is an incredibly empowering way of looking at life, at my purpose as an instrument of God.
What is the path I am to follow? The holy Spirit through Zechariah here tells me that it is the path of peace. The New Jerome Biblical Commentary asserts that the path of peace is more than just an absence of hostility; its meaning includes “wholeness, harmony, well-being, prosperity, and security. In Luke it interconnects with the theme of love of enemies and in Luke the first word the risen Jesus speaks is “peace.”
I think that my purpose is that simple. To participate in bringing about the kingdom of God by striving for peace — harmony and well-being — with all especially my enemies. He has given me everything I need from my conception to accomplish that and He gives me a new beginning every day to start all over because He forgives me for my failings and offers me salvation. Those are the words of the holy Spirit that came from Zechariah’s mouth that day.
May your day be a day of peace as you await the coming of our Lord Jesus who comes anew to us every day.