Tag Archives: Zechariah

December 20: The Annunciation

Annunciation 

St. Luke’s account of the Annunciation to Mary, read today at Mass,  follows the announcement of the birth of John to Zechariah in yesterday’s advent readings. An angel announces that Jesus will come as her son, but Mary receives the angel so differently than the priest Zechariah. (Luke 1, 5-25,)

In the temple, where great mysteries are celebrated, the priest won’t believe he and his wife can conceive a child. They’re too old. He doubts.

In  Nazareth, a small town in Galilee and an unlikely place for a major revelation, the angel approaches Mary with a message far more difficult to grasp. “ The Holy Spirit will come upon you and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. Therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God.”

Mary believes and does not doubt, and so by God’s power she conceives a Son who will be born in Bethlehem. “Behold, the handmaid of the Lord, be it done to me according to your word,”

The Annunciation scene pictured above was placed at the beginning of a medieval prayer book with the words beneath it in latin: “Lord, open my lips and my mouth shall declare your praise.” Most medieval artists assumed that Mary was at home in prayer when the angel came and so they put this scene at the beginning of an hour of prayer. Prayer enables Mary to believe and accept what would come.

Isn’t that true for us all? As with Mary, prayer helps us discern and say yes to what God wills. “Lord, open my lips and my mouth shall declare your praise.”

My community, the Passionists, still begins the prayers of the liturgy of the hours by reciting the Angelus, a prayer that repeats this gospel story. “The angel of the Lord declared to Mary, and she conceived by the Holy Spirit….”

Prayer opens the way to mysteries beyond us. As a woman of faith, Mary knew that, and we learn from her.

At Mass today we pray:  “O God, grant that by Mary’s example, we may in humility hold fast to your will.” Open our eyes to see and our lips to say yes.

Readings www.usccb.org

December 19: Zechariah in the Temple

“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!

Readings here.

My Soul Proclaims God’s Greatness

Visitation

St. Luke offers a beautifully crafted narrative of the infancy of Jesus Christ in the first two chapters of his gospel. Mary concludes her visit to Elizabeth with a song of praise to God, who is “mighty and has done great things to me.” Her Magnificat.

After John the Baptist’s birth, his father Zechariah sings his praise to God. “Blessed be the Lord, God of Israel. He has come to his people and set them free.” His Benedictus.

The Benedictus is sung or said in the church’s morning prayer each day as the silence of night ends and the day is blessed.  “In the tender compassion of our God, the dawn from on high shall break upon us, to shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death and to guide our feet in the way of peace.”

Every evening we pray Mary’s “Magnificat” at evening prayer in thanksgiving for the blessings of the day. “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior…God has come to the help of his servant Israel, remembering his promise of mercy, the promise he made to our fathers, to Abraham and his children forever.” The promises of God remain and with Mary we rejoice in them now and wait for their fulfillment to come.

Commentators on Luke’s gospel say that Luke probably uses Jewish Christian prayers applying them to Zechariah and Mary. The New American Bible, for example, says: “ Because there is no specific connection of the canticle to the context of Mary’s pregnancy and her visit to Elizabeth, the Magnificat (with the possible exception of v 48) may have been a Jewish Christian hymn that Luke found appropriate at this point in his story.”

Ancient prayers, the Magnificat and the Benedictus appropriately are attributed to Mary and Zechariah. They’re our prayers too.

Gracious God,

Let me not doubt your promises, your tender mercies, but let me rejoice in them as Mary and Zechariah did, and look for their fulfillment, through Christ, our Lord. Amen.

Birth of John the Baptist

birth john
Jesus himself praised John the Baptist for his holiness; one reason the church celebrates John’s birth and death in its liturgy. Luke’s gospel recalls John’s birth in detail, ending with the words:“The hand of the Lord was with him. The child grew and became strong in spirit, and he was in the desert until the day of his manifestation to Israel.”

Like Mary and Joseph, Elizabeth and Zechariah are recognized in Luke’s gospel for their role in the birth and raising of the child. However lonely and independent John appears in the gospels, he was influenced by them and the extended family he belonged to. They all left their mark on him. “The hand of the Lord was with him,” but human hands were on him  as well.

He had faith like his mother Elizabeth who recognized the Spirit’s presence in her pregnant cousin Mary visiting her from Nazareth. John would point out the Lamb of God among all those who came to the Jordan River for baptism.

He had faith like his father Zechariah who devoutly celebrated the mysteries of God in the temple of Jerusalem as a priest. At the Jordan River,John called pilgrims on their way to the Holy City to prepare the way of the Lord in their own hearts.

Undoubtedly, John was a unique figure, a messenger from God, a voice in the desert preparing the Lord’s way. But there were  faithful people behind him, as they are behind us.

Looking Ahead

Looking ahead realistically is always hard, but maybe it’s harder today, especially for a religious congregation like mine, whose membership is old and whose financial resources are stretched.

We mirror the church in this country, in fact, which is losing members and running short on finances. So, we have to plan for diminishment’

But God’s plan is not to fade away, but to grow; to live and not to die. The wonderful first reading from Zechariah for today’s Mass talks about growth, not decline. Keep a “measuring line” in your hand for what is new, it says. Don’t be afraid to think big.

Here’s the reading from Zechariah in full:

“I, Zechariah, raised my eyes and looked: 
there was a man with a measuring line in his hand.
I asked, “Where are you going?”
He answered, “To measure Jerusalem,
 to see how great is its width and how great its length.”

Then the angel who spoke with me advanced,
and another angel came out to meet him and said to him,
“Run, tell this to that young man:
People will live in Jerusalem as though in open country,
because of the multitude of men and beasts in her midst.
But I will be for her an encircling wall of fire, says the LORD,
and I will be the glory in her midst.”

Sing and rejoice, O daughter Zion!
See, I am coming to dwell among you, says the LORD.
Many nations shall join themselves to the LORD on that day,
and they shall be his people and he will dwell among you.”

We need God’s “measuring line” when we look ahead.