Thursday, December 22, 2016


Homily for December 23rd, 2016: Luke 1:57-66.

          At the circumcision of John the Baptist, eight days after his birth, “they were going to call him Zechariah after his father,” Luke tells us. Scholars tell us that in New Testament times a child’s naming was the right of the father. The naming of Mary’s Son was an exception: he had no human father. That was why the angel Gabriel told Mary in advance, “You will give him the name Jesus.”

          John’s father Zechariah had lost his power of speech when he failed to believe the angel’s message to him that his wife, though long past childbearing age, would have a son, “whom you shall name John” (Lk 1:13). He had thus been unable to tell Elizabeth that the angel had already disclosed the name of the son she would bear. We now learn that Zechariah is not only mute but deaf. So he cannot hear his wife saying: “He will be called John.”

          To get confirmation of the name, the bystanders must question the deaf father by writing him a note. Imagine the astonishment when he confirms the name already chosen by his wife by writing: “John is his name.”

          “Immediately his mouth was opened,” Luke tells us, “his tongue freed, and he spoke, blessing God.” Those final words are significant. With his speech restored, Zechariah speaks first of all to the Lord God, blessing and thanking him for the humanly impossible gift he and his wife have received. “Blessed be the Lord the God of Israel because he has visited and ransomed his people.” The Latin word for “blessed” is benedictus. So the canticle or hymn which Zechariah speaks is known by Catholics as the Benedictus. The Church incorporates Zechariah’s words into her daily public prayer, in the Office of Lauds or Morning Prayer.

Happy are we, if we do the same: by praising and thanking God for the blessings he has already bestowed on us, even before we start asking for fresh blessings.