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O Lord, open our lips
and our mouth shall proclaim your praise.
Blessed are you, Sovereign God of all,
to you be praise and glory for ever.
In your tender compassion
the dawn from on high is breaking upon us
to dispel the lingering shadows of night.
As we look for your coming among us this day,
open our eyes to behold your presence
and strengthen our hands to do your will,
that the world may rejoice and give you praise.
Blessed be God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
Blessed be God for ever.
Then his father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke this prophecy:
‘Blessed be the Lord God of Israel,
for he has looked favourably on his people and redeemed them.
He has raised up a mighty saviour for us
in the house of his servant David,
as he spoke through the mouth of his holy prophets from of old,
that we would be saved from our enemies
and from the hand of all who hate us.
Thus he has shown the mercy promised to our ancestors,
and has remembered his holy covenant,
the oath that he swore to our ancestor Abraham,
to grant us that we, being rescued from the hands of our enemies,
might serve him without fear, in holiness and righteousness
before him all our days.
‘And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High;
for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways,
to give knowledge of salvation to his people
by the forgiveness of their sins.
By the tender mercy of our God,
the dawn from on high will break upon us,
to give light to those who sit in darkness
and in the shadow of death,
to guide our feet into the way of peace.’
Today our Advent journey comes to an end. As is often said in films: There is just one more sleep till Christmas! If we have taken our pilgrimage through the last four weeks seriously, we are now at the point of being overcome with joy as we welcome the Christ-child into this world. Today’s reading is not about the birth of Jesus, however, it is about Zechariah’s prophecy. Like Mary’s Song of Praise (the Magnificat), this prophecy is also recited or sung every day in our churches and cathedrals. As the Magnificat is a constant core to the service of Evensong, so each day begins with the Benedictus in the service of Matins.
Zechariah’s great prophecy gives an everlasting form to the words of praise we reflected upon yesterday at John’s circumcision and naming. Zechariah praises God for all that he has done. His words present us with a paean of praise that God is fulfilling all that was spoken by the prophets of old. Then, in the second part of his prophecy, he acknowledges his own son’s place in the greatest of stories, the story of the salvation of humanity through the coming of the one who will give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death; the one who will guide our feet into the way of peace.
As we look around us we see so much that is wrong in this world. We see violence, exploitation, oppression and persecution. We see a world that fails to respect the wonders of God’s creation. We see so many who are self-obsessed and avaricious. Zechariah’s prophecy speaks of another world. It speaks of a world in which God has not forgotten or forsaken his covenant with humanity. It speaks of a world where we, being rescued from the hands of our enemies, might serve him without fear, in holiness and righteousness. It speaks of a world where by the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high will break upon us.
On this Christmas Eve, let us renew our commitment to a life of faithful discipleship. Let us pray that we might play our part in bringing Zechariah’s prophecy to fruition in this troubled and divided world. Let us pray that we might never forget that we are the ones who are now bearing the light of the Christ-child into this world. Let us praise God that he has entrusted us with that responsibility and let us pray that we might never betray that trust!
Watchful at all times, let us pray for strength to stand with confidence before our Maker and Redeemer.
That God may bring in his kingdom with justice and mercy, let us pray to the Lord.
That God may establish among the nations his sceptre of righteousness, let us pray to the Lord.
That we may seek Christ in the scriptures and recognize him in the breaking of the bread, let us pray to the Lord.
That God may bind up the broken hearted, restore the sick and raise up all who have fallen, let us pray to the Lord.
That the light of God’s coming may dawn on all who live in darkness and the shadow of death, let us pray to the Lord.
That, with all the saints in light, we may shine forth as lights for the world, let us pray to the Lord.
Let us commend the world, which Christ will judge, to the mercy and protection of God.
as your kingdom dawns,
turn us from the darkness of sin to the
light of holiness,
that we may be ready to meet you
in our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ.
Uniting our prayers with the whole company of heaven,
let us pray with confidence as our Saviour has taught us
Our Father, who art in heaven,
hallowed be thy name;
thy kingdom come;
thy will be done;
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our trespasses,
as we forgive those who trespass against us.
And lead us not into temptation;
but deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom,
the power and the glory,
for ever and ever.
Christ the Sun of Righteousness shine upon us,
scatter the darkness from before our path,
and make us ready to meet him when he comes in glory;
and may the blessing of God almighty,
the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit,
be among us and remain with us always.