Blessed be the Lord the God of Israel. The opening words of the morning canticle, the Benedictus. It is a regular feature of Morning Prayer but have you ever wondered where it came from or why?
This Sunday our gospel reading (Mark 1:1-8) introduces John the Baptist proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins (Mark 1:4). We are, I’m sure, familiar with the image of John emerging from the wilderness clothed with camel’s hair and eating locusts and wild honey (Mark 1: 6), but who is he?
As Christmas approaches we will hear again of the angel Gabriel’s visit to Mary and her miraculous pregnancy. Less well known is Gabriel’s earlier visit to an elderly priest, Zechariah, with the news that Zechariah’s childless wife, Elizabeth, was also to bear a son. Zechariah, not surprisingly perhaps, is sceptical and for the next nine months is literally speechless. Only when their baby is born and Zechariah agrees to name him John, does he regain the power of speech. The words of the ‘The Benedictus’ are Zechariah’s immediate reaction. From this auspicious beginning, John will grow to be the ultimate prophet; the one tasked with pointing, quite literally, to the Messiah. For the moment, however, it is John’s father, Zechariah, who is inspired to see where this is all leading.
John is no mere bit player, or a walk on part. Then, as now, John’s role is to call his hearers to listen and respond. You, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High, and will …. Give knowledge of salvation to his people by the forgiveness of their sins (Luke 1: 76, 77). It’s a role he continues to fulfil today.
As Christmas approaches our attention is once more drawn inexorably to the child in a manger, and rightly so. Even as we come to gaze and worship, may Zechariah’s words remind us that the story is not over. With the offer of forgiveness comes the call to repentance; and we need both to guide our feet into that way of peace we so deeply desire.
Rev’d Philip Payne Second Sunday of Advent The Notice Sheet for 10th December can be found here
 see Luke Ch 1 (especially vv 5-24 and 57 to the end) and Mark Ch 1:1-6