These beautiful words are the first verse of what is called “The Canticle of Zechariah”. It is the jubilant canticle that issues forth from him after his son, John the Baptist, is born. We shall rise and pray this canticle together, just before the opening hymn, at every Sunday mass during the season of Easter. We shall do this because this canticle evokes better than any text I can think of, the spirit of Advent and Christmas. It speaks of John the Baptist: “You my child, shall be called the prophet of the Most High, for you will go before the Lord to prepare his way”. And it speaks of Jesus: “He has raised up for us a mighty saviour, born of the house of his Servant David”. It celebrates, in Jesus, the fulfilment of the promises made to our fathers, and it concludes: “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 into the way of peace”.
This canticle also happens to be, like the Magnificat for Vespers, a daily feature of Lauds, or morning prayer, for those who pray the Liturgy of the Hours, like us, Dominicans. I have prayed this canticle as a part of my morning prayer, together with my Dominican community or alone, every single morning of my life for the past thirty years, and like the Magnificat, I have never tired of it, and I know that I never will. It is my hope that this will also become one of your favourite prayers, because it is just so beautiful.
I will make paper copies available for distribution. You will find them, as always, on the white rack in the foyer. I wish upon you all an Advent and Christmas Season that will be a time littered with moments of peace, of quiet hope and joy, of renewed expectation of the Lord’s coming into your life. Might I be so bold as to venture a few suggestions to this end?
– Gifts: decide that you will minimize the number of gifts you will buy. That way, Advent won’t turn for you into the opposite of peace and quiet joy; it won’t grind your Advent down to a frenzied, tiring, anxious ordeal to get all the shopping done.
– Preparations for Christmas. I understand that you always want to prepare a beautiful Christmas, especially for your children. Just bear in mind that children don’t need to be showered with a super-abundance of decorations and food in order to experience joy. Their surprise, their joy can reside in very few, very small things. So keep it simple. And again, you will have avoided running yourself ragged in the quest for the “perfect” Christmas.
– This one is really bold: It seems to me that Christmas, and the run-up to Christmas, that I prefer to call Advent, are prime-time for family relationships. Why not decide that during meals in this season, especially perhaps dinner, all televisions and all radios are turned off, and all smart-phones are in “silent” mode, and nobody goes on the Internet during supper. Imagine the potential this creates for a meaningful family conversation. One last suggestion for meals. To mark the season, light a candle
In any case, my hope is that you will emerge from this Advent and Christmas season renewed by it, re-affirmed in faith and hope and love.