Memory of the Poor

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Reading of the Word of God

Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia

This is the Gospel of the poor,
liberation for the imprisoned,
sight for the blind,
freedom for the oppressed.

Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia

Luke 1, 57-66

The time came for Elizabeth to have her child, and she gave birth to a son;

and when her neighbours and relations heard that the Lord had lavished on her his faithful love, they shared her joy.

Now it happened that on the eighth day they came to circumcise the child; they were going to call him Zechariah after his father,

but his mother spoke up. 'No,' she said, 'he is to be called John.'

They said to her, 'But no one in your family has that name,'

and made signs to his father to find out what he wanted him called.

The father asked for a writing-tablet and wrote, 'His name is John.' And they were all astonished.

At that instant his power of speech returned and he spoke and praised God.

All their neighbours were filled with awe and the whole affair was talked about throughout the hill country of Judaea.

All those who heard of it treasured it in their hearts. 'What will this child turn out to be?' they wondered. And indeed the hand of the Lord was with him.


Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia

The Son of Man came to serve,
whoever wants to be great
should become servant of all.

Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia

As if to introduce us to the mystery of Jesus’ birth the Gospel today makes us contemplate another “miraculous” birth caused by God. It is that of John, a name in Hebrew which means “favour of God,” the prophet who had to gather the entire prophetic tradition of the Old Testament, all of it directed to the mystery of God, a prophet who was born through God’s own intervention. The author of the Letter to the Hebrews suggests it when he writes, “God spoke to our ancestors in many and various ways by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son” (Heb 1:1-2). We could say that the Baptist is the last “favour of God,” the last of the prophets before the Lord speaks directly with his Word. The evangelist Luke emphasizes that his birth through the union of Zechariah and Elizabeth is the work of God’s intervention. Neither of them had hoped at that point that it was possible to have a child. They had resigned themselves to this fate. But God intervened. Zechariah, after a time of disbelief, mended his ways as soon as he realized the miracle of this birth. And he recognizes how extraordinary this birth is. And full of joy for what has happened he recognizes that the Word of God is strong and effective. He becomes a believer and is finally convinced that the Word of God—the news that he had received from the angel—was true. Besides his heart and mind, even his tongue is untied. He is no longer mute. He can speak and express his joy for this child, the fruit of God’s strength. John’s birth creates wonder not only in the house of Zechariah but also among his neighbours, as it happens each time the Gospel is heard and put into practice: the effects of love caused by the Gospel always create a new atmosphere among people. Heard with faith and preached with clarity the Gospel transforms the heart of its believers and of those who surround them. This is how the world changes. Not only does the Word of God show the way to follow but opens it and gives strength to those who follow it. We know that it is not an ordinary path; it is not the fruit of our own self-centeredness or our own instincts. It is a way that is born from on high and that must be welcomed in the heart, as Zechariah did. It is the way that leads to Jesus, like the way of the Baptist. Christmas asks us to welcome Jesus in our hearts so we may be transformed by this birth. Only the person who is transformed can, in turn, transform. Knowing this dynamic of the faith well, Silesius, a mystic of the 1600’s, said, “If Christ had been born a thousand times in Bethlehem, but not in your heart, you would be lost forever.”