Canticle 16 – The Song of Zechariah (Luke 1:68-79)

Updated: Nov 30, 2021

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[68] Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel; *

he has come to his people and set them free.

[69] He has raised up for us a mighty savior, *

born of the house of his servant David.

[70] Through his holy prophets he promised of old,

[71] that he would save us from our enemies, *

from the hands of all who hate us.

[72] He promised to show mercy to our fathers *

and to remember his holy covenant.

[73] This was the oath he swore to our father Abraham, *

to set us free from the hands of our enemies,

[74] Free to worship him without fear, *

[75] holy and righteous in his sight

all the days of our life.

[76] You, my child, shall be called the prophet of the Most High, *

for you will go before the Lord to prepare his way,

[77] To give his people knowledge of salvation *

by the forgiveness of their sins.

[78] In the tender compassion of our God *

the dawn from on high shall break upon us,

[79] To shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death, *

and to guide our feet into the way of peace.

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Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit: *

as it was in the beginning, is now, and will be forever. Amen.


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This is the Response offered for delivery aloud on the second Sunday of Advent, Year C, according to the lectionary for the Episcopal Church. Instead of a Psalm of David, this song of Zechariah (from Luke 1:68-79) is offered as a Prayer Book Canticle, which includes the standard prayer at the end, giving recognition that this son was divinely inspired by Yahweh. It is then a response to either a reading from Baruch or Malachi. There, Baruch is said to have written, “Take off the garment of your sorrow and affliction, O Jerusalem, and put on forever the beauty of the glory from God.” Malachi wrote the question from Yahweh, asking “Who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears?” These orations will precede one from Paul’s letter to the Philippians, where he wrote, “This is my prayer, that your love may overflow more and more with knowledge and full insight to help you to determine what is best.” All will accompany the Gospel reading from Luke, where it was said of John the Baptist: “He went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, as it is written in the book of the words of the prophet Isaiah.”


It must be known that Zechariah [also spelled “Zacharias”] was the father of John, born of Elizabeth. For the first eight days, John was referred to as “barzechariah” [“son of Zechariah”], and the leader who performed the cutting and official naming was told by Elizabeth, “His name will be John” [“Iōannēs”]. Because Zechariah had laughed when Gabriel came to him prophesying his barren wife would bring forth a son, Gabriel struck him mute. When Elizabeth said his name will be John, they asked the mute Zechariah what name he chose. Zechariah asked for paper and a pen, at which point he wrote “John.” The name “Zechariah” means “Yah[way] Remembers” and the name “John” means “Yah[weh] Is Gracious.” After the naming was official, Zechariah’s muteness was lifted and he sang this song of praise.


Here, it becomes important to see Luke as Greek, which means he was writing his Gospel as one who had access to the family of Jesus [Mother Mary], who told him her story, which he wrote in his native language. I believe his role as a physician also plays a role in his relationship with the family of Jesus, as he was of Israelite [Jewish] heritage, regardless of where he was born and what languages he understood. What is vital to realize when reading these words of Zechariah is the words of this song were told to Luke in Hebrew [Aramaic or Yiddish], which he understood. His text in Greek was then divinely inspired [led by Yahweh and the soul of Jesus within his soul] to be representative of the original language of this story; but Zechariah saying, “Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel” would have been stated as “bā·rūḵ Yah-weh ’ĕ·lō·hîm ’ĕ·lō·hê yiś·rā·’êl,” just as David sang in Psalm 72:18.


In verse 68 the NRSV begins a mini-theme of freedom, where the word “free” is found in the translations of verses 68, 73, and 74. There is nothing in the Greek text of Luke that says “free.” Instead, the Greek words “lytrōsin” (“redemption”), “dounai” (“grant”), and “rhysthentas” (“having been rescued”) are written, with “lytrōsin” having an acceptable translation into English as “liberation.” Still, a theme of “freedom” is misleading, because the birth of John the Baptist would not offer the Jews “freedom” from Roman domination (to whom they were powerless to resist, thus to Rome their lives were submitted) but a slavery of their souls, through complete submission to Yahweh. Again, that is the truth of the statement of “blessing,” which does not come from free will to do as one pleases, but the choice to serve Yahweh as Israel, an elohim of Yahweh.


Verse 70 is a prophecy that John would speak the same spoken by the prophets of Israel, all of who were Yahweh elohim. This then says John was also a prophet, who would become a herald of what is required for souls to gain “salvation.” His voice would be a herald to who “has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of David.” (Verse 69 literal translation of the Greek) This becomes how some would say that John was thought to be Elijah having returned. Both spoke prophetically from being souls married to Yahweh, speaking the Word of Yahweh for the people to follow.


Verse 71 sings of “mercy” from the “enemies” of “ourselves” [from “hēmōn”], where all “selves” are individual “souls.” To read the word “enemies” and project that onto the Babylonians, the Romans, or anyone other than “self” is denial. It is one’s soul denying marriage to Yahweh that made all the fallen souls of Judah be their own worst “enemy.” Therefore, John would announce redemption of sins, brought on by a love affair with Satan and his demons of material worth, whose sole purpose was “hatred” of Yahweh’s people.


Verse 72 then reminds those singing these word of prophecy that the only reason the Jews were considered to be children of God is “our fathers,” through a “holy covenant.” The promise made to Abraham was not freedom but “to offer” [“dounai”] the descendants of Abraham-Isaac-Jacob the path to righteousness, through divine union with Yahweh’s Spirit. It would be that holy marriage, based on each soul’s agreement to live up to the covenant of marriage that would cleanse the old self – the enemy within – and make a soul the wife of Yahweh – Anointed as His children.


The importance of verse 74 is the absence of “fear.” Since humanity has known about Yahweh and religion – the Advent of Adam and Eve – the birth of Cain and the propagation of his seed has brought forth countless false religions, all of which are intended to mislead human souls away from the truth. The lineage of Abraham (which split with Ishmael) led to Moses leading the children of Jacob, who had learned to love and serve Yahweh (not lesser gods), to the founding of a priesthood that would be prepared to serve Yahweh to the world. It was never meant to be some special favor to one man (Abraham) or one race of people. The Jews were born from being birthed from their womb that was the Promised Land in Canaan. They needed to have a history of self-failure, so when Jesus would come (to be announced by John) that priesthood would ignite. This is souls who only “fear” losing Yahweh in their lives, which means once possessed divinely they will forever “serve him.” Verse 75 says this service will be as “righteousness,” which will not be for anything less than “all the days of their lives.”


Verse 76 is then Yahweh speaking through His servant Zechariah, singing a prophecy to his infant son John. This prophecy comes by singing, “You, my child, shall be called the prophet of the Most High [from “Hypsistou” – of the Highest”], for you will go before the Lord to prepare his way.” This verse is begun by a capitalized “Kai,” which says it is the most important verse in this song. That notification then leads to the capitalization of “Hypsistou,” which ranks this word’s meaning to that of the proper names “David, Abraham, and God,” equating it with “Blessed, Lord, God, and Israel” in verse 68. The distinction of this verse being begun with a capitalized “Kai” places it as more important than verse 69, which begins with a lower-case “kai.” All of this is Yahweh’s blessing placed on the birth of John, through the singing of Zechariah, which is the truth that John would prepare the way of Jesus, when his time came.


Verses 77 through 79 then repeat the theme of “salvation,” through “forgiveness of sins.” That says all by then will have sinned, thus all will need to repent. It was their sins that kept them from realizing their heritage, meant to be the priests of Yahweh. It was their “afflictions” that kept them from feeling “compassion of Yahweh” (translated in Greek as “of God” – “Theou”), which led their souls away from marriage to His Spirit. John’s baptisms and preaching would cleanse their bodies of flesh and open their hearts through confession of sins, placing their souls “on high” (from “hypsous”). The Jews would need that elevation of spirit to be prepared to receive the presence of Yahweh in His Son, Jesus. John’s opening of their hearts and minds would allow Jesus “to shine” the light of truth into the “darkness” of their souls, where “death” held their souls captive. It would be that light that would direct the Jews to walk the “path” intended, as servant wives of Yahweh.


As a song that prophesies the life of John, without Zechariah knowing anything of Jesus (still in Mary’s womb), symbolizes how knowing the future holds Jesus in one’s life is the message of the Advent season. The birth of John is then the symbolism of the birth of awareness that one’s life must be cleansed of sins, in preparation for baby Jesus to be resurrected within one’s soul. The birth of John is the inkling that changes must be made in one’s life. It symbolizes when one’s own sins and failures come to the forefront of one’s thought processes, when one’s soul makes a commitment to serve Yahweh forever.

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