Now when the king was settled in his house, and the Lord had given him rest from all his enemies around him, the king said to the prophet Nathan, "See now, I am living in a house of cedar, but the ark of God stays in a tent."; Nathan said to the king, "Go, do all that you have in mind; for the Lord is with you.";
But that same night the word of the Lord came to Nathan: "Go and tell my servant David: Thus says the Lord: Are you the one to build me a house to live in? Now therefore thus you shall say to my servant David: Thus says the Lord of hosts: I took you from the pasture, from following the sheep to be prince over my people Israel; and I have been with you wherever you went, and have cut off all your enemies from before you; and I will make for you a great name, like the name of the great ones of the earth.
And I will appoint a place for my people Israel and will plant them, so that they may live in their own place, and be disturbed no more; and evildoers shall afflict them no more, as formerly, from the time that I appointed judges over my people Israel; and I will give you rest from all your enemies. Moreover the Lord declares to you that the Lord will make you a house. When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your ancestors, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come forth from your body, and I will establish his kingdom.
I will be a father to him, and he shall be a son to me. When he commits iniquity, I will punish him with a rod such as mortals use, with blows inflicted by human beings. Your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me; your throne shall be established forever.";
I will sing for ever of your love, O Lord;
through all ages my mouth will proclaim your truth.
Of this I am sure, that your love lasts for ever,
that your truth is firmly established as the heavens. (R./)
'I have made a covenant with my chosen one;
I have sworn to David my servant;
I will establish your dynasty for ever
and set up your throne through all ages.' (R./)
He will say to me: 'You are my father,
my God, the rock who saves me.'
I will keep my love for him always;
for him my covenant shall endure. .(R./)
Then John's father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke this prophecy:
"Blessed be the Lord God of Israel,
for he has looked favorably on his people and redeemed them.
He has raised up a mighty saviour for us
in the house of his servant David,
as he spoke through the mouth of his holy prophets from of old,
that we would be saved from our enemies
and from the hand of all who hate us.
Thus he has shown the mercy promised to our ancestors,
and has remembered his holy covenant,
the oath that he swore to our ancestor Abraham, to grant us
that we, being rescued from the hands of our enemies,
might serve him without fear,
in holiness and righteousness before him all our days.
And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High;
for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways,
to give knowledge of salvation to his people
by the forgiveness of their sins.
By the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high will break upon us,
to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,
to guide our feet into the way of peace."
After being made speechless for doubting God's word, the father of John the Baptist suddenly regains his voice, to loudly proclaim the fulfillment of God's promises to Israel. His is a song of Advent, as we wait for the light that has already come and is still yet to come. Before God's messenger (Gabriel) appeared to Mary, he came to Zechariah with a startling promise like that first made to Abraham centuries before. Elizabeth and Zechariah's advanced age is a clear parallel with Sarah and Abraham, when they too conceived their long hoped-for son, Isaac. Zechariah belongs to a priestly rank in Israel and Elizabeth too is a descendent of Aaron's priestly family. Thus the son they will raise is destined to lead people towards God. Then too, Gabriel promises that John will be filled with the spirit and power of Elijah, a great prophet who turned his people to repentance (Malachi 4:5-6). Zechariah's doubt at Gabriel's words parallels Sarah's unbelieving laugh at the idea that she could bear a child at her age (Genesis 18:12-15).
The background to Zechariah's song is the biblical belief that God's promises are fulfilled. When at first Zechariah doesn't believe, he is rendered mute until the day the promised event occurs. Eight days after John's birth, Zechariah and Elizabeth take him to be circumcised, following the ritual commanded to Abraham (Genesis 17:12.) When the time comes to name the child, Elizabeth insists that he be given the name John, as God had prescribed. His friends turned to Zechariah, who confirmed the name -- and immediately he regained his speech and began praising God, whose promises are always fulfilled.
Zechariah's song can become our own, this Christmas Eve, as we seek a revived awareness of God in our lives. We see light on the horizon, and await the full, dazzling light of God's incarnation in Jesus Christ. We find ourselves in a time marked by the already and the not-yet. A light has dawned but doesn't seem yet to have reached the deeper darkness in and around us. As disciples of Christ we live always in a kind of Advent-waiting, knowing that the light has come to our world, yet still awaiting for it to shine in fullest measure. We may even, like Zechariah, doubt that such a glorious future is possible. But also with him, we can praise God for the dawn, seeing it as the first shimmering of the final, full radiance of what God has in store.