Zechariah, released from his silence, bursts forth in profound praise, proclaiming the activity of God at work in our world’s history. The Savior is coming! His own son will act as witness and light-bearer to the loving kindness and merciful true mission of the great and holy one.
God is faithful, and will fulfill every divine promise.
Image by Joe
By Tim Trainor
In epic style, Luke, in Chapters 1 and 2 recount for us not one, but two angelic visits, two outlandish birth announcements, two miraculous births (one to a virgin, the other to an elderly, barren woman), plus the arrival of a baby prophet and then an infant Messiah, two circumcisions, and finally the fulfillment of several ancient prophecies! As if that isn’t enough, the narrative is interspersed with three very famous hymns/canticles!
Luke makes the very important point over and over again that everything said or done about the births of John and Jesus was “of the Holy Spirit.”
Did you notice that Zechariah’s canticle of praise at the birth of John has many parallels with Mary’s Magnificat? It too is firmly rooted in the Old Testament and the faith story of the Jewish people. Also, don't miss that the content of our Christmas Eve scripture reading this morning is focused primarily on Jesus, as Savior, not John, His forerunner.
Luke recounts for us how God is faithful to all the promises that He has made in the Old Testament. John is the prophet whom He promised that will go before the Lord to prepare His way and give knowledge of salvation by the forgiveness of sins.
What does this phrase mean? Zechariah goes on to celebrate the splendid part his son was to play in the great Messianic drama. He was to be Messiah's pioneer to give men the true information respecting the Deliverer's work. Israel was mistaken altogether in its conception of the salvation, which they really needed. The ministry of the Messiah needed to be preceded by that of another Divine messenger to correct the very notion of salvation which had become falsified in Israel. It had to be corrected before real salvation could be realized.
A carnal and malignant patriotism had taken possession of the people and their rulers. The idea of a political deliverance had been substituted for that of a moral salvation. There was need, then, of another person, divinely authorized, to remind the people that their perdition consisted not in subjection to the Romans, but in Divine condemnation. That salvation was not temporal emancipation, but “forgiveness of their sins."
The full, tender mercy of God was, Luke tells us, to offer us correct knowledge, light, hope, and the way to real eternal peace.
At the birth of John, who would become the voice to announce the correct teachings on the why and wherefore of the presence of Jesus, the eternal Word? This fact causes me to reflect on where each of us is called to be a voice to introduce Jesus. That is, "to give accurate knowledge of His salvation?" Where am I rendered silent by fear or doubt in living my faith openly and witnessing to what really eternally matters?
This thought causes me to give thanks to the Lord for the unique way as to how He has been revealed to me and how He has set me free to proclaim His presence in my life!
Having long steeped himself in the ancient prophecies, Zechariah is sharp enough to know that things would not now be suddenly taking such a miraculous turn. Not unless God’s people were on the brink of a very new age. We might all pray that, in each of our own lives, that we would be as clear-sighted as Zechariah in reading the signs of the times. And, in picking up the hints of what God has in store for each one of us.
Did you pick up on how the Holy Spirit was very busy in all the infancy stories? Elizabeth, Mary and now Zechariah all experience themselves as filled with the Spirit of God. The Spirit is still busy in our Sacred Space community today. It is the Holy Spirit who prays through us all. I ponder this in wonder and gratitude. Many of us today sit in darkness and in the shadow of death. Zechariah has a message of hope for all such people, especially at this holy time of the year.
I consulted my Catholic Study Bible's rendering of our reading. In verse 69, the New American Bible Revised Edition reads: “He has raised up a horn for our salvation” -vs- “He has raised up a mighty Savior for us” which we find in our rendering of the text we encounter this morning. Which do you prefer?
I prefer the metaphor of the “exalted horn” as it comes from an image of a bull lifting up its horns after winning a battle. More importantly, the raised horn is a common Old Testament biblical symbol of victory, especially of being rescued from oppression.
Christmas is a time when metaphors shine, and the most popular one does so literally. Christ is the true light who came into our dark world. Names also speak volumes. Emmanuel is God-with-us. He is called Jesus because he saves his people from their sins.
I believe that one important metaphor, however, was lost in our translation of this Gospel , not the word-for-word rendering, but in cultural traction, even though it abounds in Old Testament Scriptures.
I want to hear Zechariah, an Old Testament schooled priest, prophesying about his just born son John and Jesus with the following words given him by the Holy Spirit. “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has visited and redeemed his people and has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David, as he spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets from of old . . .”
The Old Testament word horn is a better one to put in Zechariah's mouth. It stems from both the magnificence and terror that Scripture like the Palms and Samuel used to signify at once glory plus an incomparable power for defeating one's enemies. This Old Testament word better builds a word picture for me of the task of the Savior born of David for the redemption of mankind, rather than “mighty savior."
In any case, who are the enemies from whom we need to be delivered? They are, in the first place, the invisible enemies who hold us captive by our sins, our vices, and all our evil desires. These are our true enemies.
Jesus Christ also delivers us from visible enemies by his teaching. We ought not to fear them, but conquer them by charity and patience, according to Saint Paul’s saying: “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good, being careful to win over by your charity your brothers who persecute you, heaping coals upon their heads to warm up and melt their icy, hardened hearts (That's our job!)”
And the true spiritual/invisible enemies that Jesus has promised to undertake for us, are “the demons, our conquerors since the beginning of the world; our sins, which overwhelm us; our weaknesses; the terrors of our soul, which give us no rest. (That's His job!)”
I need a 'take no prisoners' big and bad ram/bull to keep me in the fold, to drive away all the soul destroying threats which I allow to give me no rest.
So, Lord, as I move into Christmas Eve, I am reminded again of how mercy is the dominant theme of how You God, personally, walk with each of us. Zechariah speaks of the fulfillment of Your promise that “God shows the mercy promised to our ancestors.” God is faithful, and will fulfill every divine promise, and bring us all safely to eternal joy. Perhaps I too often “sit in darkness and in the shadow of death.” Perhaps, in the past, I have known all too well the drabness of sickness rather than healthy wellness.
But as I read this Christmas Eve story again, I am given the hope of a new tomorrow. Because God is the mighty Lord of all human history and therefore I can trust Him to be the Lord of my little life too!
I must remember this fact and that He, as my horn of salvation, wishes me a “Very Joyful and Bright Christmas!”