24th December

Today we can thank Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist, for the hymn of praise we know as the Benedictus (Luke 1:67-79). This holy and anointed prayer is prayed every day in the Divine Office and has been deeply cherished by the Church since the beginning. (A candidate for our own personal Morning Prayer?) It runs as follows:

John’s father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke this prophecy:

‘Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel

for he has visited his people, he has come to their rescueZach

and he has raised up for us a power for salvation

in the House of his servant David,

even as he proclaimed,

by the mouth of his holy prophets from ancient times,

that he would save us from our enemies

and from the hands of all who hate us.

Thus he shows mercy to our ancestors,

thus he remembers his holy covenant

the oath he swore

to our father Abraham

that he would grant us, free from fear,

to be delivered from the hands of our enemies,

to serve him in holiness and virtue

in his presence, all our days.

And you, little child,

you shall be called Prophet of the Most High,

for you will go before the Lord

to prepare the way for him,

to give his people knowledge of salvation

through the forgiveness of their sins;

this by the tender mercy of our God

who from on high will bring the rising Sun to visit us,

to give light to those who live

in darkness and the shadow of death

and to guide our feet

into the way of peace’

It can be safely assumed that this prayer is the fruit of silence: Zechariah’s enforced and divine silence, a sweet punishment for his human and quite understandable statement of unbelief, ‘How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in years’ (Luke 1:18).

Zechariah’s Benedictus, like Mary’s Magnificat, weaves together traditional Hebrew quotations and hymns to form this canticle of praise. It is really both a prayer and a prophecy given under the direct inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Prophecy in this fundamental biblical sense does not mean a foretelling of the future as we might understand prophecy, but rather a divinely enlightened proclamation of the meaning of the events unfolding before his very eyes. In the birth of his son John, Zechariah saw God’s remembrance of his covenant promises to David (2 Sam. 7:8-16) and the salvation of Israel. The salvation he hopes for in the first part of the canticle has echoes of an understanding of the Messiah as the one who would overthrow national enemies, but as the song of praise unfolds, it becomes richer and deeper, involving freedom from sin and the receiving of God’s mercy and forgiveness.

On this holy night we prepare ourselves to come to a greater knowledge of our salvation and discover anew and afresh the tender mercy of God. As those who once lived in darkness and the shadow of death we discover that the dawn of Christ’s light shines on us to guide us into the path of peace. As we ponder the mystery of our salvation, we like Zechariah can compose our own canticle, peculiar and special to us and the circumstances of our lives. God has intervened in our lives in the same way that he intervened in Zechariah’s. We too can sing a canticle of praise as we look back on our lives and see God’s saving mercy at work. (Bible Alive)

`Celebrate the feast of Christmas every day, even every moment, in the interior temple of your spirit, remaining like a baby in the bosom of the heavenly Father, where you will be re-born each moment in the divine Word, Jesus Christ! `

(St Paul of the Cross),