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.
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.’
A few days ago we read Mary’s great song of praise, the Magnificat. Today we hear Zechariah’s song, that which is read or sung daily during Matins or Morning Prayer, the Benedictus. Of course, the two are fundamentally different. Mary rejoiced in the greatness of the Lord and all that was happening through the birth of her son. The Magnificat is almost psalm-like in its structure and content. The Benedictus is more prophecy than psalm, as we read in the opening of today’s reading: Then his father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke this prophecy.
The first half of the Benedictus speaks of the redemption that God has poured upon Israel. The raising up of a mighty Saviour is not limited to national boundaries and the military security of the Jewish nation; rather it includes the moral and spiritual salvation of all who are faithful to God’s calling.
The second half prophesies the role his own son, John, will come to play in the fulfilment of God’s promise to send a Messiah who will redeem the world. John will be called the prophet of the Most High, and will go before the Lord to prepare his ways. Zechariah’s words also speak of the dawn from on high that will break upon us.
As we journey through the days and months that lead up to the birth of Jesus, we hear of much that is miraculous, that which defies the natural laws of this world. For some, this provides food for their doubt and uncertainty. For others, those who hold fast to their faith in God, it provides the very proof they need that God is constantly at work in this world. The miraculous events we find in the gospel narrative were unique moments in our history, but that does not mean that the miraculous is not still happening, just as God’s call to action was not for those named figures in history alone.
We are all called to a prophetic ministry, just like Zechariah and his son, John. We are all called to prepare the way of our Lord and Saviour, whose birth we will celebrate in just a few hours’ time. We are all called to join with Mary in praising God for his wondrous presence in our midst every moment of every day.
As we bustle our way through the hours of this Christmas Eve, let us pause for a moment and pray that as we celebrate the Incarnation of Christ according to our local and family traditions we might also find ourselves equipped and invigorated to praise God and to take that praise into the lives of all whom we meet in this world. Let us pray that through our words and actions others may come to know the truth of the Christmas message, the truth of God coming into our midst in the baby of Bethlehem.
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 give thanks for 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.
Father in heaven, the day draws near
when the glory of your Son will make radiant
the night of the waiting world.
May the lure of greed not impede us from the joy
which moves the hearts of those who seek him.
May the darkness not blind us to the vision of wisdom
which fills the minds of those who find him.
The Lord’s Prayer
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.