O Lord, open our lips
and our mouth shall proclaim your praise.
O Emmanuel, our King and our lawgiver,
the hope of the nations and their Saviour:
Come and save us, O Lord our God.
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.
Today we witness the end of Zechariah’s nine months of enforced silence, a silence that was imposed upon him because he doubted the message of Gabriel. Today we share in the joy of Zechariah and Elizabeth as their son is born. We gather around the joyous parents, alongside their neighbours and relatives, and rejoice at the Lord’s great mercy to them in their old age. But, this is so much more than the gathering of friends and family at the safe delivery of a much longed-for baby boy. This is the birth of the one long foretold, the forerunner and herald of the Messiah.
As is the custom in the Jewish faith, on the eighth day after the birth of the baby, the parents brought him for circumcision and naming. Circumcision being the physical sign of the covenant between God and his chosen people; the naming being, traditionally, the placing of the new child within the lineage of the family into which he had been born. But … all did not go as expected.
Zechariah was still silent. The gathered assembly assumed that the baby would be named after his father. But, no, his mother, Elizabeth, spoke up and said that he was to be named, ‘John’. Such a break with custom would have caused much consternation. Why was Elizabeth breaking with the long-held traditions of their faith? Why was she insisting that their miraculous baby should be called by a name that broke the line with that stretched back into history? For those who had gathered for this important moment in the child’s life, the solution was obvious … ask the boy’s father!
In his silence, Zechariah wrote the name by which his son was to be known, and that name was, ‘John’. In that moment, in that declaration of faith in the message of the angel some nine months earlier, Zechariah’s silence was ended. He could speak, and his first words were words of praise to God.
The moment must have been one of great wonder because we read that fear came over all their neighbours. Not only did fear come over them but, all these things were talked about through the entire hill country of Judea. We also read that all who witnessed this great moment pondered upon the words they had heard.
In just two days’ time we will hear again a great message from God. We will hear of the birth of his Son, Jesus, the Christ. How will we react to that Good News? Will we continue with our festival of excess and self-indulgence, or will we pause and ponder the words of the Christmas message? Will we allow our tongues to be loosed in order that we might proclaim the wonder of Christ’s birth, or will we continue to journey in silence, wrapping up our excitement and joy as we dismantle the worldly trappings we now consider to be an essential part of the story of Christmas?
Let us pray that we might join Zechariah in knowing the wonder of our tongues being loosed in order that we might praise God and lead others into pondering the true message of this season.
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.
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
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.