Unbelieving that his already infertile and now elderly wife would bear a child, angelic promises notwithstanding, Zechariah was punished with nine months of muteness. After the birth of his son, when the question concerning his son’s name was addressed to him, signs not voices were used. Had Zechariah been deaf all that time too?
Once his son belonged to God in the Abrahamic covenant Zechariah’s voice returned. What would have been your first words after a nine-month gag order? “Finally!” or “What was that all about?!” or “As I was saying…”? Well, following nine months to choose his words, John the Baptist’s father exclaimed:
Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel
He has come to His people and set them free
He has raised up for us a mighty savior,
born of the house of His servant David.
Through His prophets He promised of old that He would save us from our enemies,
from the hands of all who hate us.
He promised to show mercy to our fathers
and to remember His holy covenant.
This is the oath He swore to our Father Abraham,
to set us free from the hands of our enemies,
free to worship Him without fear,
holy and righteous in His sight
all the days of our life.
You, my child, shall be called the prophet of the most high
for you will go before the Lord to prepare his way,
to give His people knowledge of salvation
by the forgiveness of their sins.
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 prayer we offer up every day in Morning Prayer. Known as the “Canticle of Zechariah” and as the “Benedictus”, it praises God for past promises proclaimed by prophets and prepares the Precuesor for preparing the way for the Promised One.
During the gestation period for this great prayer Zechariah’s fasting from speaking befits one whose son would fast from human conversation and restrict himself to speaking the Lord’s message.