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.