19 December  
Lk 1:5-25

In the days of King Herod of Judea, there was a priest named Zechariah, who belonged to the priestly order of Abijah. His wife was a descendant of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. Both of them were righteous before God, living blamelessly according to all the commandments and regulations of the Lord. But they had no children, because Elizabeth was barren, and both were getting on in years.
Once when he was serving as priest before God and his section was on duty, he was chosen by lot, according to the custom of the priesthood, to enter the sanctuary of the Lord and offer incense. Now at the time of the incense offering, the whole assembly of the people was praying outside. Then there appeared to him an angel of the Lord, standing at the right side of the altar of incense. When Zechariah saw him, he was terrified; and fear overwhelmed him. But the angel said to him, "Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you will name him John. You will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He must never drink wine or strong drink; even before his birth he will be filled with the Holy Spirit.  He will turn many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God. With the spirit and power of Elijah he will go before him, to turn the hearts of parents to their children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous, to make ready a people prepared for the Lord."
Zechariah said to the angel, "How will I know that this is so? For I am an old man, and my wife is getting on in years."
The angel replied, "I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news. But now, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their time, you will become mute, unable to speak, until the day these things occur."
Meanwhile the people were waiting for Zechariah, and wondered at his delay in the sanctuary. When he did come out, he could not speak to them, and they realised that he had seen a vision in the sanctuary. He kept motioning to them and remained unable to speak. When his time of service was ended, he went to his home.
After those days his wife Elizabeth conceived, and for five months she remained in seclusion. She said, "This is what the Lord has done for me when he looked favourably on me and took away the disgrace I have endured among my people."

Zechariah was standing in the holiest place on earth: in the Holy of Holies, the innermost part of the Temple.  Standing there he began to look for an explanation of the message just given to him.  But in the same instant he was struck dumb.  Rightly so!  The Holy of Holies is no place for explanations.  Today we are still looking for explanations of everything in our religion, sometimes even reducing the whole thing to an explanation.  For many teachers in the Church, you feel, the Holy of Holies is lined with books.  The Holy of Holies in the Temple was empty in the time of Jesus, and this has always been a potent symbol of contemplation.  But we fill the place with words, and when we have finished all our explanations there is no mystery left, no enchantment, no fascination…nothing but words.  Why aren’t we struck dumb?

Meister Eckhart, like many others, is called a mystic.  The word means ‘one who is silent’.  Yet all these people had a lot to say!  No doubt there have been many genuine mystics who seldom if ever spoke about their knowledge of God.  But what all mystics have in common is a profound awareness that the mystery is deeper than their words.  Underneath all their words is a great silence.  Eckhart had a gift for removing names and labels from familiar things and allowing them to be mysterious again.  Let’s hear something from him on this familiar reading.

“If anyone were to ask me, Why…did God become incarnate? – I would answer: in order that God may be born in the soul and the soul be born in God.  It was for that reason that all the scriptures were written, for that reason that God created the world and all angelic natures: so that God may be born in the soul and the soul be born in God…. The soul has no name.  Just as no one can find a true name for God, so none can find the soul's true name, although mighty tomes have been written about this….” 

For all his words, he was dumb.  His experience of God had struck him dumb, like Zechariah in the Holy of Holies.

 

 

 
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This page gives a very brief commentary by Donagh O’Shea on the gospel reading for each day of the month. 

 

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