24 December – Gospel

Commentary on Luke 1:67-79

The Gospel is the great hymn Benedictus (meaning ‘Blessed’ from its opening word in Latin) which is sung or said every day in the Divine Office at the end of Morning Prayer or Lauds.

Luke puts it into the mouth of Zechariah, the husband of Elizabeth and father of the newly born John the Baptist. For doubting the word of the angel, Zechariah had been struck dumb, but when, at the circumcision of his son, he confirmed that the boy’s name would be John, he recovered his speech and broke out into this song of praise.

God is praised and blessed because “he has raised up a horn for our salvation within the house of David his servant”, a clear reference to Jesus.

Zechariah thanks God for having – in the person of Jesus – “visited his people” and “come to their rescue”, just as has he had promised through the mouths of the prophets down the ages.

He remembers his holy covenant,
the oath he swore to our father Abraham
that he would grant us, free from fear,
to be delivered from the hands of our enemies.

Our ‘enemies’ are not those to whom we are hostile, for there should be no such people. Rather, they are those who wish us harm, simply because of our adherence to the vision of life that Jesus has given us.

What was the purpose of this deliverance? So that we could gloat over the defeat of those who wish us harm? No, it was that we could “serve him in holiness and virtue in his presence, all our days”. There is enough there already for us to reflect on with deep gratitude.

But Zechariah goes on to speak of his newly-born son:

You will be called a Prophet of the Most High, for you will go before the Lord to prepare the way for him.

That will be John’s special role, to prepare the people for the coming of Jesus our Saviour. He will do that by giving “his people knowledge of salvation through forgiveness of their sins”, a salvation that will come through Jesus giving them the experience of being reconciled and reunited with their God.

It is clear that what is said by Zechariah of his son John applies very much to us also. For it is our calling to “to go before the Lord to prepare his ways” for others.

All this will happen “by the tender mercy of our God who from on high will bring the rising Sun to visit us”. That Rising Sun, of course, is our Lord and Saviour, Jesus.

He will “give light to those who live in darkness and the shadow of death”. That surely includes all of us in some way. In the brightness of that light, he will “guide our feet into the way of peace”. The realisation of that peace and harmony in each one, in every community and throughout every society, is a sign that the Kingdom has come.

We all realise how much that peace is needed in our world, in our own society, in our own communities, in our homes and in our own selves. May the Prince of Peace come and dwell among us this Christmas.

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