I have been thinking about Zechariah and Mary’s canticles in the Gospel of Luke. How difficult it must have been for Zechariah! He came home, after serving in the Temple and hearing Gabriel’s message, and was not able to speak. The Gospel says that Elizabeth conceived a child after Zechariah returned home. She must have had conflicting feelings – grateful to God for the gift of the child, but frightened about the future. How would she care for Zechariah and their child? She was old and not able to do as much as she had when she was younger. People would talk when they saw an old woman who was pregnant – I know I would. No wonder she hid herself for some months after she became pregnant – perhaps she spent a lot of time in prayer, giving thanks to God and asking for His assistance. And her age – how difficult it must have been to be pregnant! There are enough aches and pains associated with age but add pregnancy to it – how difficult! The answer to her prayers came in the form of her cousin Mary and what an answer it was!
Zechariah, I am sure, spent much time in prayer and study after returning from the Temple. What did the Scriptures say about the Messiah? he wondered. Though Zechariah had probably studied the Scriptures all his life, still he went back to them again and again to glean from them what he could, and in particular what role his son John would play in God’s plan. Then Mary comes to visit Elizabeth – oh what joy! Not only further confirmation about his soon to be born son John, but the Messiah is in his home! No wonder Zechariah could speak such beautiful and prophetic words when his new born son is named!
Luke 1:68 – 79
The Messiah and his forerunner
Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel;
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 holy 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 hands 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.
Reading the canticle one can’t help but notice that Zechariah, like the Jews of Jesus time, expected a Messiah who would free them from their enemies – the Romans and perhaps others. A Messiah would return Israel to those glory days of David when they were free from their enemies and recognized and respected by those nations surrounding them. They would once more be free as a people, free to live their lives as they desired, free to worship God without interference from men.
However, in the second to last paragraph, Zechariah talks about salvation and the forgiveness of sins. A prophetic utterance – perhaps then he truly knew what the Messiah would bring. And tonight a repeat from Mother Angelica – God bless her – who said that John was sanctified in the womb and free from sin at birth. I had heard that he received the Holy Spirit, who is the Sanctifier. I never put that together myself.