This blog uses the daily bible readings of the Catholic Church
Reading 1, 2 Samuel 7:1-5, 8b-12,
1 The men of Kiriath-Jearim came and, taking up the ark of the Lord, brought it to the house of Abinadab on the hill, and consecrated his son Eleazar to guard the ark of the Lord.
2 From the day when the ark was installed at Kiriath-Jearim, a long time went by — twenty years — and the whole House of Israel longed for the Lord.
3 Samuel then spoke as follows to the whole House of Israel, ‘If you are returning to the Lord with all your heart, banish the foreign gods and Astartes which you now have, and set your heart on the Lord and serve him alone; and he will deliver you from the power of the Philistines.’
4 And the Israelites banished the Baals and Astartes and served the Lord alone.
5 Samuel then said, ‘Muster all Israel at Mizpah and I shall plead with the Lord for you.’
8 They said to Samuel, ‘Do not stop calling on the Lord our God to rescue us from the power of the Philistines.’
9 Samuel took a sucking lamb and presented it as a burnt offering to the Lord and he called on the Lord on behalf of Israel and the Lord heard him.
10 While Samuel was in the act of presenting burnt offering, the Philistines joined battle with Israel, but that day the Lord thundered violently over the Philistines, threw them into panic and Israel defeated them.
11 The men of Israel sallied out from Mizpah in pursuit of the Philistines and beat them all the way to below Beth-Car.
12 Samuel then took a stone and erected it between Mizpah and the Tooth, and gave it the name Ebenezer, saying, ‘The Lord has helped us as far as this.’
In the midst of the over- sweetness of the modern Christmas it’s good to have this tough piece of biblical beef to chew. The narrative ultimately comes from the traditions of the prophet Samuel, who roused the Israelites from despair at their defeat by the invading Philistines, solicited the favour of the Lord who was thought to be offended by his people, and led them to drive the invaders from their core territory. A later editor has (in vv3,4) interpreted the Lord’s disfavour as due to the worship of Canaanite deities by the people. Samuel gathered the tribes and won a victory against the Philistines which he attributed to God’s help, which spread terror in the enemy who were routed and pursued. The battle is hard to place accurately but the territory recovered from the Philistines was considerable, although some remained in their hands. Samuel’s faith and realism were shown in his setting up of a memorial stone which he named in Hebrew,“Ebenezer”, “So far the Lord has helped us.” Perhaps we can use this at Christmas, either for our own battles, or the battles for justice and peace in the world. In the latter, certainly, there have been many disappointments since last Christmas, and maybe if we are honest, in our personal affairs also, but Samuel’s example asks us to look at what has been won, nevertheless, and to mark it firmly, “So far, the Lord has helped us.”
Gospel, Luke 1:67-79
67 His father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke this prophecy:
68 Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel, for he has visited his people, he has set them free,
69 and he has established for us a saving power in the House of his servant David,
70 just as he proclaimed, by the mouth of his holy prophets from ancient times,
71 that he would save us from our enemies and from the hands of all those who hate us,
72 and show faithful love to our ancestors, and so keep in mind his holy covenant.
73 This was the oath he swore to our father Abraham,
74 that he would grant us, free from fear, to be delivered from the hands of our enemies,
75 to serve him in holiness and uprightness in his presence, all our days.
76 And you, little child, you shall be called Prophet of the Most High, for you will go before the Lord to prepare a way for him,
77 to give his people knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins,
78 because of the faithful love of our God in which the rising Sun has come from on high to visit us,
79 to give light to those who live in darkness and the shadow dark as death, and to guide our feet into the way of peace.
The Blessing song, the Benedictus of Zechariah, is a prophecy for the life of his son who is to be the forerunner of the Messiah. Luke, who almost certainly invented these words, with great delicacy, does not allow his own Christian knowledge to intrude on the lives of the Jewish believers whom he is depicting. The theology of the song is Jewish, not Christian, reflecting the hope of the Messiah. The final phrase, nevertheless beautifully expresses the faith of all Christian believers on Christmas Eve in any year: “because of the faithful love of our God whereby the dayspring has come from on high to visit us, to give light to those who live in darkness and the shadow of death, and to guide our feet into the paths of peace.” May it be so for me, for you, for our world.