Zechariah his father, filled with the Holy Spirit, prophesied, saying:
“Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel; for he has come to his people and set them free. He has raised up for us a mighty Savior, born of the house of his servant David. Through his prophets he promised of old that he would save us from our enemies, from the hands of all who hate us. He promised to show mercy to our fathers and to remember his holy covenant. This was the oath he swore to our father Abraham: to set us free from the hand of our enemies, free to worship him without fear, holy and righteous in his sight all the days of our life.
“You, my child, shall be called the prophet of the Most High, for you will go before the Lord to prepare his way, to give his people knowledge of salvation by the forgiveness of their sins.
“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 into the way of peace.”
Today is Christmas Eve, and the final day of my Advent Series! I must say, I wasn’t sure I would make it this far, but I did! Posting everyday was certainly a challenge, but I made it. I skipped a handful of days, but that’s okay. Life happens. Overall, I think I accomplished my goal and persevered!
Today’s gospel reading is a section also known as the “Canticle of Zechariah.” This canticle is three-fold in its purpose. First, it tells of a coming Messiah, born of the house of David. Second, it looks towards John’s future, and third, it speaks of change.
The first part of the Canticle of Zechariah proclaims, in essence, that God’s son, the long awaited Messiah, has been born. Zechariah focuses on God’s promise to the Israelites–that he would save them from their enemies and raise up for them a Savior. This promise has, at last, been fulfilled.
This statement must have caused wonder in those who heard it. Zechariah was not alone when he prophesied. All of those gathered around must have been in shock. They probably either thought Zechariah was crazy, or they didn’t know what to think. The claim that their long awaited Savior had come would be a lot to soak in.
If I put this in perspective of my own life, I admit I’d be skeptical. If I were nearby and someone began proclaiming that Christ had returned, I would probably raise an eyebrow. My curiosity would definitely be peaked, however. I think, if I heard someone speaking as Zechariah did, I would be inspired to look into it. My awareness would be raised. I would be hopeful.
The second part of Zachariah’s canticle describes the future of John. Zechariah says of John, “You, my child, shall be called the prophet of the Most High, for you will go before the Lord to prepare his way, to give his people knowledge of salvation by the forgiveness of their sins.”
The people listening to Zechariah already suspect that God’s hand is on John. Zechariah’s prophesy must raise their suspicions even more. It gives the people concrete hope because they can see the child right before them. They have witnessed the birth of a prophet. They know something is coming and they know John is a person to watch. Ultimately, their gaze on John will lead them to the Messiah.
The final part of the canticle is my favorite. Zechariah says, “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 into the way of peace.” This phrase is so beautiful to me, and full of so much rich symbolism and imagery.
Zechariah describes the dawn of a new age. He says that “the dawn from on high shall break upon us.” This puts in my mind the image of Jesus as the light–the sun–and his birth as the morning. Interestingly enough, it is in fact, the dawn of a new age. Literally. Jesus’s birth marks the separation between B.C. and A.D. in chronological time.
Zechariah goes on to describe how they have emerged from the “shadow of death,” an apt description since Jesus came to bring an end to death. Just as light from the sun at morning banishes the shadows of night, so also does Jesus banish the shadows of sin. He saves us from the darkness of night; he is the “dawn from on high.” Nighttime may fall again, but the morning is always close behind.
What do you think of Zechariah’s canticle? Is there any imagery that strikes you?
Today is the last day of Advent. How did Advent go for you this year? Did you learn anything new? How did Advent this year help you to prepare for the coming of Christ?
This is also the end of my Advent Series. How did it go for you? Would you like to see anything similar in the future? Do you have any suggestions for what you would like to read about in the New Year?