Zechariah’s Song

For a guy who wakes up at 5 am most days, I’m really not a morning guy.  I hate getting out of bed.  It takes me at least 90 minutes and two cups of coffee to feel safe operating a motor vehicle.  I rarely wake up excited to start a new day.  So it is that I’m not one who can pull out their Book of Common Prayer and a Bible and read morning prayer.  Navigating the Psalms, appointed lessons, and the Collect of the Day is enough to make me want to crawl back in bed.  I rely instead on the good people at Forward Movement who provide up-to-the minute accuracy on the Daily Office website.  It might be cheating to not have to do the page flipping, but that it keeps me from cursing seems to be a fair trade off, and besides, I own a pellet smoker, so I’m kind of OK with taking the easy way out.

Still, I’m not a morning person, and so I’m often either teetering on the edge of falling back asleep or pushing my luck in the amount of time I have before the kids get up.  Should I be planning my own Morning Prayer office, I’d probably choose the shortest canticles every morning, but because I rely on the coding skills of the FM staff, I’m at their mercy.  If they choose all three section of Canticle 12: A Song of Creation, I’m stuck reading it.  I can remember early on in this phase of my Daily Office habit getting frustrated with what seems to be a strong affinity on behalf of the coders for Canticle 16: the Song of Zechariah.  It’s pretty long, and it spends half of its time rehearsing Old Testament prophecy.  Couldn’t it just jump from the first verse to “You, my child, shall be called the prophet of the Most High…”?

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In the years that have passed since restarting a Morning Prayer routine, I’ve learned to love Zechariah’s Song, which is appointed in place of a Psalm for Advent 2C.  I love it contextually, as it comes from the mouth of the temporarily mute priest Zechariah who doubted God’s ability to produce a child for this long barren couple. I love that it is sung in direct response to his fear-filled neighbors who wonder, “What will this child become?”  And yes, now I even love that it takes the time to cover the promise of God to the people of Israel through the prophets, all the way back to Abraham.  What I love the most, however, is the blessing Zechariah bestows upon his son.  Like it is for Mary, I’m sure that Zechariah knows that this particular blessing will bring with it pain for John and his family, but in faithfulness, the blessing is proclaimed nonetheless.

“You, my child, shall be called the prophet of the Most High, *
for you will go before the Lord to prayer his way,

To give his people knowledge of salvation *
by the forgiveness of their sins.

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 guid our feet into the way of peace.”

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What Zechariah Teaches Us

Between Canticle 16 and the Gospel lesson from Luke 3, we get just enough of JBap’s origin story to leave your typical congregation thoroughly confused.  We find out that JBap is the son of Zechariah, and we hear his daddy’s song, but the context as to why it is important eludes us.  The preacher who is dealing with JBap and Zechariah would do well to spend a moment or two reminding her members, roughly 20% of whom have never read the Bible, where this story comes from.

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If you’re reading this blog, you probably aren’t a part of the growing trend toward biblical illiteracy, so I will spare you the gory details.  Suffice it to say that Zechariah has experienced the wrath of God.  Having doubted the word of God’s messenger, Zechariah was made mute for the duration of his wife, Elizabeth’s, gestation.  The words we hear in Canticle 16 are the first words spoken by Zechariah since he asked, “How can this be” 40 or so weeks earlier.

Imagine how frustrating that time must have been.  Zechariah had no one to blame but himself, and yet, he couldn’t  tell of God’s great miracle in Elizabeth’s pregnancy after years of barren sadness.  For 9ish months, the anger could have welled up within him, but it didn’t.  Instead, in his quiet time Zechariah learned of God’s great love as he watched the promises made to him, the promises he doubted so honestly, come true again and again.

When Zechariah finally did speak, he didn’t warn of God’s coming anger, but instead, he sang the Good News of God’s “tender compassion,” literally God’s bowels of mercy that will lead to the way of peace.

There is plenty to learn from Zechariah, but rather than steering negative (i.e. don’t doubt God), I wonder if we might follow his example and highlight the good in his story; God’s love overflows and his tender compassion is open to all.