Today, there is a Mass celebrated in the morning, which as a priest has always been a favorite of mine. Today, the Christmas story of St. Luke, which we have been reading for the past week, arrives at the proclamation of Zechariah, father of St. John the Baptist.
Here is a picture of the sanctuary of the church built over the site of the birth of St. John the Baptist in Ein Karem, and is dedicated to the great precursor to Jesus Christ. The statues on the right and left are of the Baptist’s parents, Sts. Zechariah and Elizabeth.
Mary visited Elizabeth during the time both were pregnant with their sons. One can only imagine the course of their conversations during their time together. Just like any of us, they needed to share their experience of God and the mysterious nature of his action in their lives. Clearly, as St. Luke so readily and often points out, the Holy Spirit was very active in these two women, and their families.
As we know, Zechariah was unable to speak during the time of Mary’s visitation, but he would certainly have been present. He would have listened to the conversations of Mary and Elizabeth, and no doubt, found his own way to share what he had experienced during his time of priestly service while burning incense in the sanctuary of the Lord. He, too, had a visitation by an angel of the Lord who foretold that Elizabeth would conceive a child in her old age.
It was the angel who told Zechariah that this child would be filled with the Holy Spirit even from his mother’s womb, that he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God. It is the angel of the Lord who tells Zechariah to name the child John. (see Luke 1: 8 – 20)
Because of his own encounter with the messenger of God, and sharing from the experience of both Mary and Elizabeth, and ultimately, by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, that Zechariah gives us the great hymn of this day, which is prayed every day of the year during Morning Prayer:
Zechariah his father, filled with the Holy Spirit, prophesied, saying:
“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.
Through his prophets he promised of old
that he would save us from our enemies,
from the hands of all who hate us.
He promised to show mercy to our fathers
and to remember his holy covenant.
This was the oath he swore to our father Abraham:
to set us free from the hand of our enemies,
free to worship him without fear,
holy and righteous in his sight
all the days of our life.
You, my child, shall be called the prophet of the Most High,
for you will go before the Lord to prepare his way,
to give his people knowledge of salvation
by the forgiveness of their sins.
In the tender compassion of our God
the dawn from on high shall break upon us,
to shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death,
and to guide our feet into the way of peace.”
And now, the Church is prepared for the birth of our Savior, the Dawn from on High, to break upon us, to be our Light and our Salvation!