Sunday, December 18, 2016


Homily for December 19th, 2016: Judges 13:2-7, 24-25a; Luke 1:5-15.

          When the angel Gabriel visited the young Jewish teenager, Mary, to tell her that God wanted her to be the mother of his Son, Mary asked, quite naturally, how such a thing could be possible. To which the angel responded: “Nothing is impossible with God” (Luke 1:37).

          Both of our readings today show God doing the impossible. In today’s first reading, the recipient of a gift impossible for anyone but God is identified simply as “the wife of Manoah.” The Bible nowhere gives her name. She is unable to conceive a child. Numerous contemporary articles and books by unfruitful wives testify eloquently to the grief experienced by women whose dreams of motherhood remain unfulfilled.  Manoah’s wife is visited by an angel who tells her that she will have a son who will free his people from their enemies.

          The woman in today’s gospel reading is named: Elizabeth, wife of the Jewish priest Zechariah. Both are far beyond childbearing age. This time the angel bringing the news that she will conceive and bear a son appears not to Elizabeth but to her husband. Zechariah is unable to believe that such a thing is possible. In consequence, the angel tells him, he will lose the power of speech until the promised boy is born. 

          In one of his sermons (293:1-3) St. Augustine uses a play on the two Latin words vox (voice) and verbum (word) to explain the reason for this. Zechariah’s son, John the Baptist, was called, Augustine says, to be a voice: vox – for the word, verbum: Jesus, God’s personal utterance and communication to us. While still in his mother’s womb, John’s voice was silent. Only when John, the voice for the Word, was born, was his father’s power of speech restored.

In a different but similar way, we too are called to be voices for God’s Son, the Word: at least by the witness of our lives. St. Francis of Assisi has said it best: 

“Preach always. If necessary, use words.”