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.
Psalm 89.2, 19-27
I will declare that your love is established for ever;
you have set your faithfulness as firm as the heavens.
You spoke once in a vision and said to your faithful people:
‘I have set a youth above the mighty;
I have raised a young man over the people.
‘I have found David my servant;
with my holy oil have I anointed him.
‘My hand shall hold him fast
and my arm shall strengthen him.
‘No enemy shall deceive him,
nor any wicked person afflict him.
‘I will strike down his foes before his face
and beat down those that hate him.
‘My truth also and my steadfast love shall be with him,
and in my name shall his head be exalted.
‘I will set his dominion upon the sea
and his right hand upon the rivers.
‘He shall call to me, “You are my Father,
my God, and the rock of my salvation;”
‘And I will make him my firstborn,
the most high above the kings of the earth.
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.
John’s 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.’
On Tuesday, our reading was Mary’s great song of praise, The Magnificat. Those marvellous words are said or sung at Evening Prayer (or Evensong) every day of the year. Today’s reading, Zechariah’s song of praise, is also said or sung every day. The Benedictus is the other anthem of praise and hope that is recited daily, but this time at Morning Prayer (or Matins).
To understand how this song of praise relates to us, we need to begin by putting it into the context of the gospel narrative. For nine months Zechariah was silent, his power of speech taken from him by God’s messenger. Even when his son was born Zechariah was forced to remain silent. For him there could be no joyous conversation or celebratory song. Instead, his enforced silence went on.
Those nine months of silence must have dragged terribly for Zechariah. His priestly duties would have had to be curtailed and any social interaction would have been brought to an abrupt halt. All that Zechariah could have done during those days was to study, meditate and pray.
In accordance with Jewish law and tradition, eight days after his birth, Zechariah and Elizabeth presented their miraculous son in the synagogue for circumcision and naming. It was only at this point, as Zechariah publicly declared his obedience to God, that the boy’s father regained the power of speech. And with that newly restored power of speech, Zechariah praised God and uttered these great words of prophecy.
The Benedictus comprises two parts. The first is a song of thanksgiving for the realization of the Messianic hopes of the Jewish nation. After centuries of waiting a descendant of the great King David was coming to bring deliverance, in fulfilment of God’s promise. The second part of the Benedictus is an address from the father, Zechariah, to his son, John. This address makes clear John’s destiny to be the great prophet who will be the herald of the long-awaited Messiah, God’s Anointed One, Jesus Christ.
Both the Benedictus and the Magnificat are essential precursors of the coming of Jesus into this world. Both great songs of praise have been used by the Church for centuries as reminders of God’s faithfulness to humanity. Both texts show us the importance of setting aside human wisdom in order that we might follow the divine wisdom of God’s redemptive plan.
As the time to celebrate Christ’s Incarnation draws near, let us pray for the strength to resist the negative pressures of our daily existence in order that, through prayer and thanksgiving, we might welcome the Christ-child as never before.
Prayers of Intercession
Let us pray to the Lord for the word of salvation to be made known to all people.
Strengthen your faithful people as messengers and ministers of your word, that all may hear and believe. Confirm our fellowship in the Gospel and keep us constant in truth until the coming of Christ.
Make straight the crooked ways of the world where people stumble without guidance and make smooth the rough places where life is hard. Come with your power to bring joy to the nations and knowledge of salvation to all people.
Give grace to us, our families and friends, to live together in love and to desire all that is good. Cleanse us from all that holds us back from you.
Have mercy on all who are held so fast by sin that they cannot repent. Grant them the true sense of your mercy and the good news of forgiveness. Free those who cannot forgive themselves, and give them confidence in your redeeming love.
We remember the departed whose fellowship is now complete in you. Grant them salvation in the spirit after the death of the flesh.
Repenting of our sins and trusting in the mercy of Christ, we make our prayers through him.
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.
Hills of the North, rejoice,
river and mountain-spring,
hark to the advent voice;
valley and lowland, sing.
Christ comes in righteousness and love,
he brings salvation from above.
Shout, as you journey home,
songs be in every mouth,
lo, from the North they come,
from East and West and South:
in Jesus all shall find their rest,
in him the universe be blest.
Editors of English Praise, 1975
based on Charles Ernest Oakley (1832–1865)