Already but not yet – Christmas Eve – Luke 1:67-79

In epic style, Luke 1-2 recounts not one, but two angelic visits, two outlandish birth announcements, two miraculous births (one to a virgin, the other to an elderly, barren woman), the arrival of a baby prophet and an infant Messiah, two circumcisions, and the fulfilment of ancient prophecy and expectation. As if that isn’t enough, the narrative is interspersed with three major arias or canticles.

The Song of Zechariah which is one of the three canticles is traditionally known as “the Benedictus” after the first word in the Latin translation and is a morning prayer of thousands every day; It speaks about the coming of the Saviour. The song Zechariah sings is not just a psalm; it is a prophetic song. Even more to the point, it is a song of the Holy Spirit. The first chapter of Luke’s gospel is long. 80 verses long but in this narrative Luke makes the point over and over again that everything occurring in, with, and under the births of John and Jesus was “of the Holy Spirit.”

Zechariah’s prophetic song is an ironic moment in Luke’s telling. The old priest has been unable to speak for months and as he finally fulfils the angel’s demands from earlier in the chapter, he bursts like a dam. The words of prophecy pour out. I like to think that in the months when Zechariah couldn’t speak, he did a lot more thinking and listening than usual.

All the silence gave Zechariah time to create something to honour the occasion of something holy. When the spirit comes upon Zechariah, his tongue is loosened. Like a songwriter or a poet marking a major moment, Zechariah has composed something fitting for the beginning of John’s life yet the song is also about his wife’s cousin’s child. It is a strange moment, a priest singing praise of a different child.

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