by Christine Sine
I always knew that Advent was a radical season, but I did not realize how radical until I started preparing for our theme Proclaiming Justice, Seeking Peace Through Advent. First there is Mary the rebel, whom I talked about last week. Now I want to introduce you to Zacharias the father of John. He too was a bit of a rebel. In spite of the objections from his family he called his son John and made an incredible proclamation of freedom and liberation at his birth.
As we read Zacharias’s song, sometimes called The Benedictus, I wonder if Mary was standing there listening and lapping up his words. Luke tells us she spent 3 months with Elizabeth who was in her sixth month when she arrived so it seems she left to return to Nazareth either just before or just after John’s birth. Just after seems more likely to me. How many times, I wonder did Elizabeth, and Mary discuss the angel’s words, with the silent Zacharias listening? She had listened expectantly to the angels and sung their song of liberation. It obviously resonated in Zacharias’s soul and now his first words, his words of liberation you might say, echoed the Magnificat, and reinforced the promises that had already taken root in Mary’s heart. Listen to Zacharias’s song in Luke 1:67- 79. (The Voice)
May the Lord God of Israel be blessed indeed!
For God’s intervention has begun,
and He has moved to rescue us, the people of God.
And the Lord has raised up a powerful sign of liberation for us
from among the descendants of God’s servant, King David.
As was prophesied through the mouths of His holy prophets in ancient times:
God will liberate us from our enemies
and from the hand of our oppressors!
God will show mercy promised to our ancestors,
upholding the abiding covenant He made with them,
Remembering the original vow He swore to Abraham,
from whom we are all descended.
God will rescue us from the grasp of our enemies
so that we may serve Him without fear all our days
In holiness and justice, in the presence of the Lord.
And you, my son, will be called the prophet of the Most High.
For you will be the one to prepare the way for the Lord.
So that the Lord’s people will receive knowledge of their freedom
through the forgiveness of their sins.
All this will flow from the kind and compassionate mercy of our God.
A new day is dawning:
the Sunrise from the heavens will break through in our darkness,
And those who huddle in night,
those who sit in the shadow of death,
Will be able to rise and walk in the light,
guided in the pathway of peace.
The Benedictus, the Song of Zechariah, has been said or sung in early morning worship since it was introduced by Benedict of Nursia in the sixth century. It is a song of blessing (‘Benedictus’ means blessing in Latin) and hope. But it is a song that also speaks of times of hardship and the anticipation of freedom from oppression. It begins, ‘May the Lord God of Israel be blessed indeed! For God’s intervention has begun, and He has moved to rescue us, the people of God.’ – we are reminded that God’s people were once enslaved, had enemies and longed to be able to worship God in freedom.
Zechariah’s song sprung out of a time of hopelessness. The Bible tells us that he was an elderly priest who, with his wife Elizabeth, was ‘getting on in years’. They had no children. The priests would take on a week’s duty in the temple where they officiated at services: a bit like being Canon-in-Residence in our Cathedral. One day whilst in the temple Zechariah encountered an angel who promised him a son, to be called John. He was told he would have ‘joy and gladness’, that the child ‘will be great in the sight of the Lord’. (Luke 1.14)
But Zechariah didn’t believe the angel.
“How will I know that this is so?” he asked. “For I am an old man, and my wife is getting on in years.” (Luke 1.18)
From that moment he became mute, unable to speak at all. He remained silent throughout the entire pregnancy and didn’t speak until his baby was eight days old. It was only when he announced, ‘His name is John’ that his tongue was freed and he began to sing his song of blessing and hope. Did his sudden freedom to speak out strengthen Mary’s resolve to bring up her child to be the liberator the Hebrews were looking for?
Within the Benedictus there are great themes of hope and salvation.
There is hope for the salvation of the people of Israel: ‘a mighty saviour’ is on his way. There is hope for Zechariah’s son John who will prepare the way for Jesus with his father’s prophetic blessing upon him. And there is hope for all people,: for each one of us. “A new day is dawning: the Sunrise from the heavens will break through in our darkness, And those who huddle in night, those who sit in the shadow of death, Will be able to rise and walk in the light, guided in the pathway of peace.”
I love these words reminiscent of Isaiah 9:2 which all of Zacharias friends and family would have recognized as referring to the hope for the coming of the Messiah, the Prince of Peace, the One who would make all things right and bring justice for them and for all humanity. Some of them, I am sure, would know Mary and had probably heard the rumors of her pregnancy and the possibility that the child she carried was the hoped for Messiah. Perhaps they whispered their hopes and dreams for the liberation of their nation from the oppression of the Roman Empire, little realizing that the child to be born promised peace and freedom for all the peoples of the world.
Who are the singers of freedom and justice in your life? Who are the ones that proclaim the coming of Christ not as a meek and vulnerable child, but as the bringer of peace for all.
Read these words from Isaiah 9:6,7 and reread Zacharias’s song above. How does it make you feel? Are you excited for the coming of God’s son who will “ensure justice without fail and absolute equity, always.” ? If so, in what ways does the promise of Christ’s coming in all its fullness impact the way you live now?
Hope of all hopes, dream of our dreams,
a child is born, sweet-breathed; a son is given to us: a living gift.
And even now, with tiny features and dewy hair, He is great.
The power of leadership, and the weight of authority, will rest on His shoulders.
His name? His name we’ll know in many ways—
He will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Dear Father everlasting, ever-present never-failing,
Master of Wholeness, Prince of Peace.
7 His leadership will bring such prosperity as you’ve never seen before—
sustainable peace for all time.
This child: God’s promise to David—a throne forever, among us,
to restore sound leadership that cannot be perverted or shaken.
He will ensure justice without fail and absolute equity. Always.
The intense passion of the Eternal, Commander of heavenly armies,
will carry this to completion.
Whether you are praying the stations of the day, in need of resources for rest, hoping to spark joy and find wonder, or simply want to enjoy beautiful prayers, poetry, and art – our digital downloads section has many options! Christine Sine’s book Rest in the Moment is designed to help you find those pauses throughout the day. Praying through the hours or watches, you may find inspiration in our prayer cards set Prayers for the Day or Pause for the Day. You may find your curiosity piqued in the free poetry and art download Haiku Book of Hours. All this and more can be found in our shop!