O Lord, open our lips
and our mouth shall proclaim your praise.
as Mary waited for the birth of your Son,
so we wait for his coming in glory;
bring us through the birth pangs of this present age
to see, with her, our great salvation
in Jesus Christ our Lord.
Make me to know your ways, O Lord,
and teach me your paths.
Lead me in your truth and teach me,
for you are the God of my salvation;
for you have I hoped all the day long.
Remember, Lord, your compassion and love,
for they are from everlasting.
Remember not the sins of my youth
or my transgressions,
but think on me in your goodness, O Lord,
according to your steadfast love.
Gracious and upright is the Lord;
therefore shall he teach sinners in the way.
He will guide the humble in doing right
and teach his way to the lowly.
All the paths of the Lord are mercy and truth
to those who keep his covenant and his testimonies.
Glory to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit;
as it was in the beginning, is now and shall be for ever. Amen.
The time came for Elizabeth to give birth, and she bore a son. Her neighbours and relatives heard that the Lord had shown his great mercy to her, and they rejoiced with her.
On the eighth day they came to circumcise the child, and they were going to name him Zechariah after his father. But his mother said, ‘No; he is to be called John.’ They said to her, ‘None of your relatives has this name.’ Then they began motioning to his father to find out what name he wanted to give him. He asked for a writing-tablet and wrote, ‘His name is John.’ And all of them were amazed. Immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue freed, and he began to speak, praising God. Fear came over all their neighbours, and all these things were talked about throughout the entire hill country of Judea. All who heard them pondered them and said, ‘What then will this child become?’ For, indeed, the hand of the Lord was with him.
In some families great value is placed on the honouring of traditions. Those traditions come in many shapes and sizes. Some are little more than superstitious repetitions of words and actions, while others are seen as defining status or lineage. For families that place great value on maintaining such traditions it really matters when they are varied, or even broken.
Even in our modern, free-thinking world many families perpetuate traditions that keep family names ‘alive’. Babies are often named after parents or grandparents. To ignore such a tradition can easily result in upset and pain across a whole extended family.
As we have already discovered, Zechariah and Elizabeth both had a long and prestigious lineage. Zechariah was descended from the priestly line of Abijah, while Elizabeth’s ancestry could be traced back to Aaron, the brother of Moses. Such impeccable family credentials could not be ignored when it came to the naming of their newly-born son. But, when the moment came for his name to be made public, Elizabeth did just that. The elderly mother, who had been so greatly blessed by God, insisted that her son should be called John. She, whose lineage was so long and respectable, declared her intention to break the chain of tradition. What was even more shocking was the collusion of her mute, priestly husband.
Zechariah had been dumb for nine months, from the moment he expressed his doubts about God’s plan and the role his family would play in that plan. Then comes the moment when Zechariah has the opportunity to make amends for his doubt. The son of Zechariah and Elizabeth would be called John, and something new would begin.
Not all traditions are bad and in need of change, but we do need to be cautious. When tradition morphs into mindless repetition it can easily become a seditious form of idolatry. Traditions need to be constantly examined for their true worth. The whole Christian Church is based on history and tradition, but there is another strand that we ignore at our peril. The Christian Church is also founded on the words of scripture, and those words are constantly challenging us to see the world through different eyes – the eyes of God.
Christmas is a time of traditions. Those traditions make us feel warm and secure, but … some of those traditions only serve to distance us from the God who was born as a baby in a humble stable in order that he might save humanity from its own folly. Let us pray for the strength and the courage to follow the example of Zechariah and Elizabeth. Let us pray that our hearts and minds may follow the calling of God, and not the pressure of tradition.
Prayers of Intercession
United in the company of all the faithful and looking for the coming of the kingdom, let us offer our prayers to God, the source of all life and holiness.
Merciful Lord, strengthen all Christian people by your Holy Spirit, that we may live as a royal priesthood and a holy nation to the praise of Jesus Christ our Saviour.
Bless all ministers of your Church, that by faithful proclamation of your word we may be built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets into a holy temple in the Lord. Lord,
Empower us by the gift of your holy and life-giving Spirit, that we may be transformed into the likeness of Christ from glory to glory.
Give to the world and its peoples the peace that comes from above, that they may find Christ’s way of freedom and life.
Hold in your embrace all who witness to your love in the service of the poor and needy; all those who minister to the sick and dying; and all who bring light to those in darkness.
Touch and heal all those whose lives are scarred by sin or disfigured by pain, that, raised from death to life in Christ, their sorrow may be turned to eternal joy.
Remember in your mercy all those gone before us, who have been well-pleasing to you from eternity; preserve in your faith your servants on earth, guide us to your kingdom, and grant us your peace at all times.
Hasten the day when many will come from east and west, from north and south, and sit at table in your kingdom.
We give you thanks for the whole company of your saints in glory, with whom in fellowship we join our prayers and praises; by your grace may we, like them, be made perfect in your love.
Prayer for the week
who sent your messengers the prophets
to preach repentance
and prepare the way of our salvation:
give us grace to heed their warnings
and forsake our sins,
that we may greet with joy
the coming of Jesus Christ our Redeemer;
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
now and for ever. Amen.
The Lord’s Prayer
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. Amen.
The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ,
and the love of God,
and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit,
be with us all evermore. Amen.
The prophets spoke in days of old
to those of stubborn will.
Their message lives and is retold
where hearts are stubborn still.
And Jesus told his hearers then
of love, of joy, of peace.
His message lives, he speaks again,
and sinners find release.
Shall we not hear that message, Lord,
to lead us on the way?
Come, Christ, make plain your saving word,
and speak to us today.
John Edward Bowers (b. 1923)