Canticle of Zechariah

zechariah
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 Lord
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.

Glory to the Father,
and to the Son,
and to the Holy Spirit.
As it was in the beginning.
is now, and will be forever.

Amen.

It occurred to me this morning that this canticle is a short history of salvation. I have written about this canticle in other places on this blog, but I don’t think I have recognized this important fact. The canticle starts by saying that God has remembered his promise of a savior from Genesis and then takes us through the promise made to Abraham and the patriarchs all the way to John the Baptist. Then the final stanza is a song of joy at what God has accomplished.

March 28, 2017 I have wondered why there seemed to be a repeat about God’s promises. I realized this morning that the promises are not repeated. The first mention of the promises is reflected from the prophets, but then the promise to Abraham is recited. It seems just a small thing, but it is not. Our Father is a “Father who keeps His promises.”

Zechariah’s Canticle Part 2

 

john-the-baptist…”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.”

Thinking about this, this morning – John the Baptist in the wilderness. Somehow people heard about John- probably travelers saw and heard him, then spoke of him in the marketplaces, with their friends. “A strange and wild man,” they might have said,” living on locusts and wild honey, dressed in animal skins with a rope around his waist.” Why would someone want to go see him? Curiosity, maybe, but with lives as difficult as they were, why take the time to see? Entertainment? How many had time for this? The elites, of course, those who knew the Law and the Prophets – they were waiting, after all, for the Messiah – this was the predicted time. But ordinary people who by the sweat of their brows put food upon their family’s table?

Those ordinary folks who did go out to see John the Baptist – perhaps there was a longing in their hearts, a sense of their own unworthiness, a need to feel closer to God, and yes, a sense of curiosity and wonder. Jews knew their history; they were all waiting for God to bring them freedom.

And what did they find when they made the journey to the wilderness – a wild man, just as their friends had said. A man with a booming voice and a frightening message. “Repent!” No doubt some walked away, thinking that they had been entertained, or maybe some were disappointed. But to those who stayed, who heard John’s message, who submitted to his baptism – what did they experience? Was there an inner sense of freedom, a rekindling of their love for the Lord, a sense of wonder, of God’s closeness to them? And were they prepared when Jesus came on the scene? Were these people more open to the message of Jesus because of John’s work?

I would say “yes”, though of course, I have no proof. God comes to us in mysterious ways -sometimes we feel His presence in a word, an action by ourselves or others, by the way the morning light sculpts the branches of the trees or sparkles on the wet leaves. Each time we open our hearts to these moments, I think we become more open to the next “visit”.

Lovely morning this morning, though a bit cold. I have noticed the sunsets lately – they seem to be prettier than I remember – soft, pretty colors.

Canticle of Zechariah – Part 3

“In the tender compassion of our God, the dawn from on high will break upon us”

dawnThis morning while reading the Morning Prayer in the Magnificat, this line “jumped out” at me. What a beautiful image it brought to mind. As the dawn comes, so quietly, so softly, God’s Son will come to us – “to shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death, and to guide our feet in the way of peace.” The birds know when the dawn is coming, for sometimes I hear the softest peep as they awake. Then all is quiet again, as they wait with expectation for the start of a new day.

How glorious and loving is our God! That He would come to live among us, to share His life with us – there is no way that my mind can understand this or begin to thank Him for His generosity and His love. And as the dawn is so beautiful and touches our hearts so gently, so I think God must be also. Beautiful to behold – so beautiful that we cannot see Him and live. Our eyes and hearts and minds could not grasp that much beauty – at least not yet.

A poem I wrote some years ago:

Darkness before dawn, the world quiet and still

All nature awaits the sign of His will.

The morning approaches with the touch of His Hand

As the cap of the night is raised from the land.

With delicate brush strokes He addresses the sky

Bringing great feasts of glory to awaken our eyes.

First, billowing clouds – soft grey-blue and white

Then a procession of hues which arouses the light.

His palette sighs heavenward with warm tints and shades,

A bouquet of colors which reflect what He’s made.

Our thanksgiving to God for his painting above,

Now intertwined with our lives is a sky full of love.

Canticle of Simeon

Luke 2:29-32
Christ is the light of the nations and the glory of Israel

Lord, now you let your servant go in peace;
your word has been fulfilled:

my own eyes have seen the salvation
which you have prepared in the sight of every people:

a light to reveal you to the nations
and the glory of your people Israel.

Simeone recognizes God's Gift

Last night, just before bedtime, I read this again. I could see the scene in my mind’s eye and feel the words in my heart. The Bible tells us that Simeon, the author of this prayer, was aged, having prayed faithfully to the Lord in the Tempe of Jerusalem for many years. The Lord had promised Simeon that he would see “the Salvation of Israel” before he died. Forty days after Jesus’ birth, Mary and Joseph bring Him to the Temple in Jerusalem, to offer their first born son to the Lord, as was required, and to make the appropriate sacrifice for Mary’s purification.

The Voice of the Holy Spirit calls to the aged Simeon, who then recognizes Jesus as the Gift that God had promised from ages past. “Now”, Simeon says,” I am ready to be at peace, to sleep with my fathers.” There was no fear in his voice, no concern about death. Simeon had had a long life. He had praised His Creator as was his joy and his work. Now near the end of Simeon’s life, God had fulfilled His promise to His servant.  Simeon could go to his rest assured that all would be well.

Such trust in the Lord! May I grow in that trust and be as faithful as Simeon.

Praise be to God!

More thoughts on Zechariah

Imagine that you are a priest of the Temple in Jerusalem. You are called to light the incense in God’s Holy Place – a task that seldom comes to you. An angel appears to you while you are in this most quiet and Holy Place, and you are frightened. The angel announces that your wife will conceive a child, even though she has long since passed the time when women conceive. You question the angel’s message, so the angel strikes you dumb for you failed to believe God’s messenger. After your time of service is completed, you return home to your wife Elizabeth. She does become pregnant, just as the angel said. You are amazed and puzzled that after all these years, there would be a child – surely you and your wife are too old.  Could you have really seen an angel? Could what you remember of an angel’s message be true?

Often during sleepless nights, you ask God’s forgiveness for your unbelief and thank Him for His wonderful gift of a child. You spend most days and sometimes late into the night at the local synagogue studying the scrolls of the Torah. The angel said that your son would be a forerunner for the Messiah. Your people have waited for the Messiah for centuries. You live as in a dream – God is preparing to visit His people. Who are you that the Most High God has chosen your son to be born to announce to the world that His Messiah has come?

Then far into your wife’s unexpected pregnancy, a visitor comes. You are told that the visitor is your wife’s young cousin Mary from Nazareth, who has come to help your wife in these last difficult months of her pregnancy. Tearing yourself away from your studies, you return home. You want to thank Mary for her kindness in coming to help Elizabeth. As you come into Mary’s presence, what do you sense? There is a look about Mary. There always has been. She is a kind and generous young woman. But she has always had about her a seriousness, a sense of purpose, a dignity beyond her years. But now, something about Mary is different. Do you feel within your soul that you are in the presence of God? Do you have the same intuition as your wife had when she heard Mary’s voice, when your soon to be born son leaped for joy in her womb? You are a man of deep thoughts and an intense love of God. Would you know that you are in His Presence? Does Mary or Elizabeth tell you the news – Mary carries within her womb the Messiah, the Son of God? What are your thoughts at her news? Do you disbelieve her as you did the angel who announced Elizabeth’s pregnancy? Or have you learned enough, thought enough, prayed enough to know that God is doing wondrous things, and He has given you a small part to play in the drama. Do you fall on your knees as you behold Mary? Do you reach out to touch the Son of God growing within her? Can you still breathe?

In Zechariah’s canticle –  the first two lines – we find these words:

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.

Was this Luke’s reflection on what he knew had happened or were they Zechariah’s words, for he knew from Mary that the Messiah was developing as an infant in her womb? Does it matter if it is Luke’s reflection or Zechariah?

August 5, 2013

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.

Today while reading the Morning Prayer, it occurred to me that Zechariah knew what the promise was – not necessarily a return of a Davidic kingdom, but a place and a time where the chosen people could worship God freely. Yes, they would be free from the hands of enemies, but being able to worship God freely would allow them to be holy and righteous in the sight of God. Perhaps he saw that as the promise of the Covenant.

Comparing Magnificat of Mary and Canticle of Zechariah

This draft was written some months ago and never finished.

These beautiful songs come from the Gospel of Luke. Mary sings hers first. Was Zechariah present to hear? How did Mary’s words influence Zechariah? Or did they? What are the common themes? How are these themes related to Israel’s faith?

————————————–

Luke 1:46-55
The soul rejoices in the Lord

My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord,
my spirit rejoices in God my Savior
for he has looked with favor on his lowly servant.

From this day all generations will call me blessed:
the Almighty has done great things for me,
and holy is his Name.

He has mercy on those who fear him
in every generation.

He has shown the strength of his arm,
he has scattered the proud in their conceit.

He has cast down the mighty from their thrones,
and has lifted up the lowly.

He has filled the hungry with good things,
and the rich he has sent away empty.

He has come to the help of his servant Israel
for he has remembered his promise of mercy,
the promise he made to our fathers,
to Abraham and his children for ever.

————————————

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.