Friday, December 23, 2016


Homily for December 24th, 2016: Luke 1:67-79.

          The Old Testament has a number of stories about women unable to conceive who become pregnant through God’s intervention. The one which most resembles the story of Elizabeth and Zechariah, the parents of John the Baptist, is the story of Sarah and Abraham. In both instances the parents are long past the age of childbearing. Three visitors come to Abraham and tell him that when they return next year, Sarah will have a son. From the tent nearby, where she is preparing a meal for the visitors (as required by the oriental law of hospitality for strangers), Sarah overhears the conversation and laughs at the absurdity of an old woman of her age giving birth. Whereupon God asks, “Why did Sarah laugh?” To which Sarah replies, “I didn’t laugh.” And the Lord responds, “Yes, you did.” (Genesis 18:1-15)

          In the case of Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist, an angel brings the message to Zechariah while he is performing his priestly duty of offering incense in the Temple, that his aged wife, Elizabeth, will have a son. The angel also says that the boy will be called John. Zechariah is unable to believe the news. Because of this unbelief, he loses the power of speech  – and, as we learn later, his hearing as well. Thus he is unable to tell his wife about the angel’s announcement or the child’s name.

          This explains why, when they come to name Elizabeth’s baby, people are astonished to hear his mother say he will be called John; and her husband  -- still unable to speak, or even to hear what his wife has just said – writes on a tablet the words Elizabeth has just spoken.

          Immediately Zechariah’s speech and hearing are restored. We might expect a conversation between him and Elizabeth about how they had agreed on the same name. Instead Zechariah immediately breaks out in the hymn of praise that we have just heard, called ever since the Benedictus, because that is the first word of the hymn in Latin.

          What does all this tell us? It says that in our relationship with God praise and thanksgiving come first. We come to Mass first of all to worship. We come, that is, not to get but to give. And all experience shows that those who give most generously also receive most abundantly.