(Book of Common Prayer p 92)
Luke 1:67 says "and Zachariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and he prophesied" and the canticle today are the words of that prophecy! St. Benedict introduced its use and it is on page 92 of our Morning Prayer. Since sincere and faith filled prayer has power, this is potentially a spiritual nuclear generator.
The proclamation of Zachariah is a Berakah, a Jewish prayer of Blessing. The Hebrew root, barak, means to kneel, and by extension to praise and thank Him. To "bless" God is to worship Him (for "blessings"). "Blessed be the Lord the God of Israel." Our Christian prayer is always to the God of Israel. Our Jewish roots must inform our theological and spiritual imaginations.
He has come to His people and set them free...
God has come, the Greek word literally means "to look at carefully" and "visit." In the Hebrew Bible, it connotes coming with care and concern. When God comes to His people in the story of Israel, He comes most often to rescue them. "I have seen their plight and heard their cries," YHWH told Moses in reference to the Hebrew slaves. "I remember my covenant and so I have come down to save them." The first exodus is the gospel of the Jewish Bible. The story of Jesus is the new exodus Gospel. Zachariah declares God has visited His people to set them free: lytrosis - to ransom , redeem, deliver is a salvation word. Salvation is not simply the getting into heaven. It is heaven getting into us. The afterlife matters, but so does this life. God is already among us as Redeemer and the salvation begins now! Our God comes to us, here and now, with healing and deliverance, with renewal and abundance life. We are free and growing into perfect freedom!
He raised up for us a mighty savior born of the house of His servant David.
The Greek actually says "a horn of salvation is raised." The horn (think rhinoceros) is a symbol of power. The promise of Messiah is through the house of David. The promise of God to the Jewish people through their Jewish king is now realized in Jesus. In the Apocalypse Jesus is described as A Lamb with Seven horns. The mighty Jesus, however, will not wield earthly power, His power is to forgive, to heal, to reconcile, to love, to suffer and die to save us.
What will salvation look like?
through His holy prophets He promised of old that He would save us from our enemies and the hands of all who hate us.
The recent spate of terrorist attacks remind us that we have enemies who hate us. There are physical and spiritual enemies. Life is a struggle because, in part, there are Haters who seek to harm us. But with the coming of Jesus the freedom is already begun. The power of hatred is defeated by the love of God in Jesus. Jesus' ministry will illustrate what that freedom is: forgiveness and reconciliation, healing and exorcism, food and fellowship. The enemy would empty us into death, Jesus will fill us with life.
He promised to show mercy to our fathers and to remember His holy covenant. This was the oath He swore to our father Abraham, to set us free from the hands of our enemies, free to worship Him, holy and righteous all the days of our life.
Hear the repetition: Again remembrance, again the covenant, again deliverance from our enemies...
If you know your Jewish Bible it all makes sense. God promised to bless the world through Abraham. This promise affects us all. Hesed is god's covenant faithful love and mercy. It is how God acts towards His people. Zachariah is connecting Jesus to the ancient covenant.
God told Pharaoh to release His people so they could worship Him. Freedom 'from' is also freedom 'for'---free to worship God and to live in right relationship with God. It is a freedom of consecration to be holy. Grace (salvation) calls for a response (the worship of holy and righteous people) You and I are those people!
Now the old priest speaks to his baby son;
You, my child, shall be called a prophet of the Most High, for you will go before the Lord to prepare His way...
Today's Gospel tells of John baptizing and preaching in preparation for Jesus' arrival. However, as we pray these words let us extend this vocation to each of us. We are also this child. We are called to be a prophet of the Lord, as we go before Him, preparing for Jesus' return.
To give His people knowledge of salvation by the forgiveness of their sins
We are messengers, we announce this Good News. Sin needs to be forgiven, not ignored. Sin needs to be confessed but only mercy and hope can free anyone to make such a confession. In Jesus the debt is paid. We can put our hands on the sinner and say "you are reconciled to God!" We know that The Father has tender compassion, mercy, kindness-- we must share this knowledge with others!
In the tender compassion of our God the dawn from on high shall break upon us, to shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death, and to guide our feet in the way of peace.
Turn to page 87, Canticle 11 (found in Isaiah 60:1ff)
Arise, shine, for your light has come...for behold, darkness covers the land...But over you the Lord will rise...Nations will stream to your light....violence will be no more [nor] ruin or destruction...
The ancient prophecy of Isaiah 9 (The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light, upon those who dwelt in the land of gloom a light has shone. you have brought them abundant joy and great rejoicing)
Our world, says Ephesians 6, is a battle field! "Our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but the spiritual and cosmic powers of this present darkness." The present age is ruled by the Prince of Darkness, it is an age of suffering, sin and death. It is an age of conflict. It is, however, already, penetrated by the Light. Light defeats darkness by its mere presence. We do well to open our minds and hearts to God's light--a healing light of salvation and truth. Jesus is the light, Jesus is our shalom peace. Peace is His gift to us, and peace is manifest most powerfully in the minds and hearts of those who trust Him.
But the temptation is to only half listen, say "yes, heard that before" and smile at it all as if it were a pious platitude but nothing more. The temptation is to read words with the lips but never pray the words from the heart. So meditate on this prophecy. Embrace it and let it simmer in your soul.
Let us pray it with conviction, until we find ourselves compelled "to go before the Lord and bring knowledge of salvation to others."
Let us trust the prophecy so that we can know the freedom, light and peace of God's salvation in Jesus the Messiah.
Let us live this prophecy and actually become a light in the dark world (just like Jesus said we are).