Summary: Silence to praise. That’s not a habit this world often engages in.
Christmas Eve 2019
Glory to God in the Highest
The words to the hymn have been silent now for near four weeks, but as in the profound stillness of that first Christmas Eve, the very Word of God, the Son of God was made manifest, so the loud anthem will resound this evening from every tongue: Gloria in excelsis Deo.
Silence to praise. That’s not a habit this world often engages in. Most of the time, you know, our lives move from noise to noise. When we travel, the radio blares music or talk, and frequent ads, most of which we hear once and never need to hear again. Even the opinions on talk radio are repeated, sometimes with little variation, throughout the day or week or even year. But let’s listen to Zechariah, father of John the Baptist. His story is worth hearing.
He was a priest, serving in the Jerusalem temple at the time of incense offering. It may very well have been the only time in his life he was by lot selected to do this. Now the Temple had no roof in the area he served. He was by himself as the congregation prayed in the outer portico. Suddenly an apparition. Angels in the Bible are huge creatures, fearsome and majestic. And one was standing in front of the priest, telling him that the prayers he and his wife Elizabeth had lifted to God for decades were being answered, and they would be parents to a son, John, who would be a great prophet. Whoa. Zechariah, however, asked how this could happen, how he could be certain of this, since both he and Elizabeth were old folk.
That’s not what you say to an angelic being, probably four or five stories tall, when he unequivocally tells you something will happen. If that ever happens to us, I hope we believe the vision. Zechariah hear the angel Gabriel tell him that his lack of faith would gain him nine months of muteness. Silence instead of speech. He could hear perfectly well, but he could not utter a sound. A fit punishment for his rash speech, don’t you think.
So now he got to hear Elizabeth and all her friends talk about his stupid response for the next three-quarters of a year, as her womb swelled and he got a daily dose of implied “I told you so” from the angel’s recalled words. Even cousin Mary arrived about six months in, herself only a few weeks pregnant with the promised Messiah, Jesus. It’s probably from her lips that St. Luke learned the story. Zechariah’s muteness became such a commonplace in the town that people began to think him to be deaf as well. So he got to hear some of the less charitable comments people uttered about his famous gaffe before the angel. When John was born and the crowd was going to name him Zechariah, after his dad, Elizabeth made it clear his name would be “John.” Disbelieving, the people came to dad and made signs asking his opinion–remember they thought he was deaf–and so Zach wrote on his nearby slate: John is his name. And this act of faith and obedience was enough to open his heart and mind and mouth to give us the song of praise we call the “Benedictus” and say each morning at Lauds. God always lets us learn, either the hard way or the easy one, that doing His will is the best we can ever do.
Tonight we commemorate in solemn ceremony the night six months later in which Mary gave birth to Our Lord. The Virgin Mary brought forth the Virgin Jesus, the true Messiah, and laid Him in a feed-box borrowed from a stable. As we come forth to commune with God and each other we take the very same Christ, now glorified, as our food and drink, because He condescended Himself to become what we need, what we long for. He gives us the grace to know and do the will of the Father, and at the end of our life, to commit ourselves into the arms of the Holy Family, and be united forever with the Trinity. So well we will sing the hymn: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to all people of good will.”