“In the days of King Herod” Luke’s gospel begins his story of the birth of John the Baptist. Ominous days. The priest Zechariah goes into the temple bearing incense to worship the Lord. An angel appears next to the altar of incense, where we expect an angel to be. “Your prayer has been heard,” the angel says to the old priest. “Your wife will bear you a son.”
Surely, the old priest was no longer praying for a son. Childbearing was over for his wife and him. The promise of new life was long gone and there’s no hope for a child.
But the angel promises a child “great in the eyes of the Lord” to be called John, who would more than fulfill their hopes, turning “many of the children of Israel to their God.”
The old priest doubts and is punished with silence. He won’t speak until after the child is born. Then he speaks again, as he announces to those at his birth that “his name is John.”
You lose your voice when you lose hope in God’s promises. You get it back when you believe.When John is born, Zechariah sings a song of praise at God’s unexpected gift.
The Communion Prayer for today’s Mass says: “As we give thanks, almighty God, for these gifts you have bestowed, graciously arouse in us, we pray, the desire for those yet to come.”
Never doubt the gifts God wants to give, Zechariah tells us. Doubt silences us. God’s gifts give us a voice.
O Root of Jesse’s stem,
sign of God’s love for all his people:
come to save us without delay!