Monday of the Fourth Week in Advent
“Do not be afraid, Zechariah,
because your prayer has been heard.
Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son,
and you shall name him John.
And you will have joy and gladness,
and many will rejoice at his birth,
Many combat soldiers believe they have been spared so far because their number has not come up. Or, “There’s a bullet with my name on it but it hasn’t yet been fired.” With that attitude these young men can be reckless, sometimes putting themselves at unnecessary risk. “When it comes, it comes.” They say, “There is nothing I can do about it.”
They assume this irrational attitude toward the insanity of war because they have inexplicably survived. Many of their friends and companions have died. S have seen one was taken, another left. They conclude their lives are guided by Fate or Karma, a mindless impersonal force which is neither kind nor cruel. If it has any principle it operates like a machine, though entirely unpredictable.
This belief is foreign to our faith. We believe in a personal god, one who sees and hears, watches, guides, decides and judges. At the heart of reality is not a mindless machine; there is rather a beautiful, holy, wise and benevolent Father who has sent His Only Begotten Son and His Holy Spirit to gather us in a saving communion of grace.
In today’s gospel, when Zechariah “was chosen by lot to enter the sanctuary of the Lord to burn incense,” he knew God had chosen him for the privilege. The Evangelist confirms that conviction because the lot sets up the encounter with the Archangel Gabriel. This did not happen by chance.
The Angel Gabriel, after a reassuring word, “Do not be afraid!” tells the astonished priest, “…your prayer has been heard.”
Neither the selection of John and Elizabeth nor the choice of Mary happened by chance. They have been praying -- the old couple for a child; Mary, for the Messiah – and the Lord heard their prayer.
The Angel Gabriel then told Zechariah, “because your prayer has been heard... you will have joy and gladness and many will rejoice at his birth.”
The Lord goes where he is welcome and our prayer welcomes the Lord. God’s holy people had been praying for centuries; and as the expectation of a messiah developed they prayed especially for deliverance. Now, at last, “In the days of Herod, King of Judea” the time of fulfillment has come and God’s purposes can be satisfied.
I should add that neither Saint Luke nor anyone else of his day could imagine time as governed by a machine (a clock). God reveals the mystery hidden from ages past but does not explain its mechanics; there are none to explain. If anything it's more like the time of birth, which cannot be rushed. As my mother (of eleven children) explained, "When the baby is ready...."
Conscientious generals, sending young men into combat, do not believe in karma. Even the warlike General Patton urged his soldiers to pray for better weather so that the Allies might press their advantage.
The Holy Spirit teaches us and urges us to pray. We can believe with confidence that God’s plan of Salvation History will be fulfilled; by prayer we include ourselves in that history.