Advent Devotional 2015: The Canticles of Luke

Here you can read devotions for the 2015 Advent Season prepared by FPC member Annie Lockwood.

Day 17: Wednesday

Wednesday: Reflect,

part II. As you reflect on the Gloria (Luke 2:9-14) today, read through your journal and note the things that God seems to be highlighting for you in your reading. What prayer or thanksgiving arises from this passage? What do you want to say to God about what he is showing you?

Throughout this meditation on the Canticles of Luke, we have been practicing the Lectio Divina approach to prayer and reading, walking through the four movements during the course of each week and each Canticle: Read, Reflect, Respond and Rest. Lectio is one of the great treasures of the Christian tradition of prayer. This tradition of prayer, first practiced by the desert fathers and adopted by Benedict for use in the monasteries he founded, flows out of a Hebrew method of studying the Scriptures, which was called haggadah. Haggadah was an interactive interpretation of the Scriptures by means of the use of the text to explore its inner meaning. It was part of the devotional practice of the Jews in the days of Jesus. Today, Lectio Divina is practiced by all who want to be transformed by an encounter with God’s word. The daily encounter with Christ and reflection on His word leads beyond mere acquaintanceship to an attitude of friendship, trust, and love. As you respond to God’s word today, think about this attitude of friendship, trust and love with Christ that leads to a deeper communion with Him.

As we have explored the Gloria, we have covered two themes encompassed by its text: the theme of Glory and the theme of Peace. Today, we will explore the third theme from the song of the angels, The Gloria, the theme of wonder and awe. Wonder is both a noun and a verb. To possess wonder is to be (a verb) filled with admiration, amazement, or awe; to marvel. A thing of wonder (a noun) refers to something strange and surprising; a cause of the emotion excited by what is strange and surprising; a feeling of surprised or puzzled interest, sometimes tinged with admiration: a miraculous deed or event; a remarkable phenomenon. Some have argued that this wonder and awe is exactly what is missing from today’s world. It is not that there is no cause for wonder, but rather that we have lost our ability to approach the world as if it is wonder-full.


This approach to life is not passive, but requires will. We can choose to be dull in the presence of glory; to yawn when we should exult; to cross our arms when we should be applauding. In our “whatever” culture, it’s become common to be non -plussed when we encounter something spectacular. But there’s something wrong with our hearts when something great only brings a drowsy interest. A century ago, G. K. Chesterton wrote, “The world will never starve for want of wonders, but only for want of wonder.”


In his classic book, Mere Christianity, C. S. Lewis writes, “If I find in myself desires which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.” Paul David Tripp, in his book,
Awe: Why It Matters for Everything We Think, Say, and Do  
argues that “Human beings are hardwired for awe. We are worshipers. We are searching for joy, hope, and fulfillment. This longing is deep in the heart of every human being. It wanders around in your soul. Your heart cries out every day to be enveloped by the glory of God. And whether we know it or not, that desire to be amazed, moved, and satisfied is actually a universal craving to see God face-to-face. For we are on a quest for life. And there are only two places to look: we can search for life in what He created or we can look to our Creator, for whom and by whom all things exist.”


The recovery of real wonder begins in the presence of God, aware of our desire to see God face-to-face, to encounter his Glory. You can recover wonder this Christmas. Luke 2:16 tells us that the shepherds dropped everything and ran to Bethlehem. They raced through the streets, searcing in every stable for newborns. Finally, they “found both Mary and Joseph, and the baby was lying in the feed trough.” They were in the very presence of the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords. They had seen the resplendent light, heard the sounds, confirmed the signs. The thunder of the angels chorus, the Gloria, was replaced by the cooing of a nursing infant, and wonder crowded out every other emotion.



  • As we encounter the story of Jesus’ birth, it is surely wonder with which we must approach it. As you listen to the song of the angels, open your heart to wonder. Let the glory of His nearness to you penetrate past your defenses. What comes to mind? Note this in your journal.
  • Consider the Shepherds hearing this amazing angel chorus. How did they respond? Luke 2:17 tells us. ” After seeing [them], they reported the message they were told about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them.” Consider your own response to this wonder-full news. Do you let the truth in, drop your guard and allow yourself to be overwhelmed by the glory of it? If so, does it will flow from you like an artesian well of joy, and wonder in Christ which you long to share?
  • Think about how a child sees Christmas. If you recover the eyes of a child, full of wonder, as you approach the story of Jesus’ birth, what prayer arises in your heart? How does it change your desire to worship him? How does this desire to worship him with wonder and awe transform your life? Note this in your journal.


Day 16: Tuesday

Tuesday: Reflect  (Think)

As God speaks to us we reflect on his Word by “ruminating” on it in our minds. Read the passage of the “Gloria” (Luke 2:9-14) for the third time. Relish the words. Let them resound in your heart. Be attentive to what it speaks to your heart.
Adoration of the Magi for the Spedale degli Innocenti, Florence
Domenico Ghirlandaio
Today, we move on to the second theme in the Gloria, which is peace . As we will discover, “the peace that God provides in Jesus is another primary emphasis for Luke (Luke 1:79; 10:5-6; 19:38, 42; Acts 9:31; 10:36)” Let’s consider the different ways in which Luke develops the theme of Christ’s peace.


First, peace is the gift that Jesus gives to those who have faith in him: “And he said unto her, Daughter, be of good comfort: thy faith hath made thee whole; go in peace” (Luke 8:48; cf. 7:50). This is a powerful statement, that it is our faith that makes us whole, and thus brings us lasting peace.


Once we are whole, we are then able to share this faith so as to bring peace to others. Jesus instructs his disciples to give the gift of peace: “And into whatsoever house ye enter, first say, Peace be to this house. And if the son of peace be there, your peace shall rest upon it: if not, it shall turn to you again: (Luke 10:5-6). Luke narrates that Jesus’ first words to his disciples following his resurrection were these, “Peace be unto you” (Luke 24:36). You are now whole.


Yet, two verses in Luke 12 seem to suggest an opposite point of view than that created in these stories. Jesus says to his disciples, “Suppose ye that I am come to give peace on earth? I tell you, nay; but rather division: for from henceforth there shall be five in one house divided, three against two, and two against three” (12:51-52).


The great early Greek theologian Origin notices the perplexity of this passage when it is compared with the angels’ announcement in Luke 2:14, and he makes these observations, as quoted by Thomas Aquinas:


“But the attentive reader will ask, How then does the Savior say, I came not to send peace on the earth, whereas now the Angels’ song of His birth is, On earth peace to men? It is answered, that peace is said to be to men of goodwill. For the peace which the Lord does not give on the earth is not the peace of good will.”


Origin’s resolution of this issue is underscored by the examples listed above of Christ giving his peace: the recipients of that peace were those who had faith in Him. Jesus is clear in his command to his disciples, “if the son of peace be there, your peace shall rest upon [his house]: if not, it shall turn to you again.”


It is also possible that a resolution to this issue in the Luke 12 passage is the possibility that the angels were proclaiming an eschatological peace for those who have faith in God, while Christ in Luke 12 was referring to a kind of earthly political peace. But Jesus was certainly speaking of the peace and wholesness which is in our hearts that comes only by faith.


In the Old Testament, the prophets often promise peace (Isaiah 9:5, 7; 11:6 9; Micah 5:4). This peace is a gift of grace: the wolf shall lie down with the lamb and the child shall crawl over the hole of the snake. The Apostle Paul argues in Romans 5:1 that we who have been justified through faith now have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. That peace is the removal of our separation from God because Jesus Himself has borne the burden of our sin and separation so that we can be reconciled to God.


The message is clear: this peace is to be cultivated in our hearts. Paul says in Philippians 4:6-7, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” This peace comes through the acts of that faith: contemplation, thanksgiving and prayer and these things allow our hearts to be open to God, and thus guarded in Christ.  The phrase “on earth peace among those whom He favors” has an alternate version in some manuscripts that read “on earth peace, good will toward men.” The first version is likely the more original, and it emphasizes peace among those whom God has already favored. This peace, though, is not a mere absence of war and conflict. It is the deep shalom, total well-being, that comes from God.


Paul outlines a peace among the brothers and sisters in Christ in Ephesians 2:14: “For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility…” This wall that divides us robs our peace, but Christ has taken these walls away. He is our peace. This peace is to find full expression in the fellowship of believers.


But just as Jesus said to his disciples, Paul argues that once we have been healed from this broken state, we are to extend this peace even to those who despise us — “If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.” (Romans 12:18). We are exhorted to promote and peace with our neighbors.


  • As you reflect on this concept of peace that comes from faith in Christ, ask God to show you the areas of your life in need of healing, the areas where greater faith will bring you wholeness. What come to mind? Note this in your journal.
  • Where in your own life are there “dividing walls of hostility,” either within your own heart towards God or between your heart and others? How might God be showing you where your faith in Christ can break down these walls?
  • Think about the word or phrase that stood out to you in the Gloria. How is this related to peace? To wholeness?
  • What might God be showing you about your faith and its impact on the deep shalom, total well-being in your heart that he wants to offer you?
  • Consider your relationships, both with other believers and with those who have not benefitted from the wholeness that faith brings. What comes to mind? What transformation is God opening your heart to embrace? What might God be showing about the healing he wants to bring to these relationships?
  • What does this suggest for the life of the world? How will you participate in bringing ‘goodwill to all men’?




Ask God to cast his light on those areas of your life that are in need of healing and to give you the grace of the faith that will make you whole. Ask him to show you how you can extend this peace to bring wholeness to others and for the life of the world.


Day 15: Monday

Monday: Read the Scripture Passage of the Gloria (Luke 2:9-14) again slowly. Relish the words. Let them resound in your heart. Let an attitude of quiet receptiveness permeate your prayer time. Be attentive to what speaks to your heart.


  • What Phrase or Word stands to you?
  • Augustine argued that the Lukan canticles (and Scripture in general) themselves are good examples of faith, hope, and charity at work in human beings: they aim to teach the reader how to behold the incarnation which requires faith, how to respond to it, which requires love, and how to hope based on the knowledge that the promises of Christ’s first coming have already been fulfilled. If we approach the Gloria in the way that Augustine suggests Scripture to be read, and in the way that Luke intended for them to be read by his own admission (indeed even in the way, it may be argued, that the cantors themselves intended) – namely as texts through which the charity, faith, and hope of the reader may be strengthened: then, looking through the window of love, faith and hope as you read, how does the angel’s song require love, faith and hope of you as you behold the incarnation? Think about how you see/behold (faith), how you respond (love) and how you hope (in promises fulfilled): how is God suggesting each may be strengthened? Note this in your journal.
  • Consider this together with the word or phrase that stood out to you. What does this suggest for what God might be saying to you in this passage?


Detail of the Angels with a scroll that reads ‘Gloria in excelsis Deo’ in D. Ghirlandaio, Adoration of the Shepherds, 1488, tempera on wood, Spedale degli Innocenti, Florence (Italy)

Today, we will explore the first theme in the Gloria, which is Glory. Luke features this theme more than do the other synoptic writers: while Matthew mentions it seven times and Mark a mere three, the word Glory appears thirteen times in Luke’s Gospel and four times in Acts. How can we think about God’s glory? As Darrel L. Bock, in his commentary on Luke observes, the word Glory may be used in two different ways: “it may refer to an attribute of God, describing his majesty, or it may be used to ascribe praise to God.”


Although Bock believes that the second use of the word is most likely the meaning of Glory in the angels’ hymn, it is also probable that both meanings are being invoked at once. The angels both say that glory belongs to God as one of his attributes, and they give glory to him in their praise.


It may be helpful to consider how Luke develops the theme of Glory throughout his work. Twice, he stresses that glory belongs to God alone. The very next instance of the word Glory after the angelic hymn comes in a completely different context. In Luke 4:6, the devil tempts Jesus, saying, “All this power will I give thee, and the glory of them: for that is delivered unto me; and to whomsoever I will I give it.” Jesus’ answer is a stern rebuke, “Get thee behind me, Satan: for it is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve.” Again in Acts 12:23, King Herod was killed by the angel of the Lord, “because he gave not God the glory.” These examples develop the angels’ initial statement at Jesus’ birth, “Glory to God in the highest.”


Luke does not leave this theme at that but continues to develop it in several narratives where the glory of God was (or would be) beheld. The Transfiguration of Luke 9:28-32 is an example of this: “And it came to pass about eight days after these sayings, he took Peter and John and James, and went up to the mountain to pray. And as he prayed, the fashion of his countenance was altered, and his raiment was white and glistening. And, behold, there talked with him two men, which were Moses and Elias: who appeared in glory, and spake of his decease, which he should accomplish at Jerusalem. But Peter and they that were with him were heavy with sleep: and when they were awake, they saw his glory, and the two men that stood with him.”


Jesus prophesies the glory that men will behold when He comes again in Luke 21:27: “And then shall they see the Son of man coming in a cloud with power and great glory.” Finally, in Acts 7:55, Stephen sees the glory of God directly before he dies a martyr’s death: “But he, being full of the Holy Ghost, looked up steadfastly into heaven, and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing on the right hand of God.” These narratives reveal that the beholding of God’s Glory is a rare experience, one that will only become common among men at the return of Jesus. Jesus, then, is the harbinger of God’s glory, both at his first coming (as the angels proclaim) and in his second.


  • Consider the ability to see God’s Glory, of which the angels sing and Jesus speaks. How does this change your reading of today’s Scripture passage? How can you practice beholding God’s Glory as a discipline that helps you to see the world in a different light?
  • Consider again the phrase or word which you noted in the passage. As you consider the theme of Glory, and Jesus as its harbinger, does this shed any light or offer any context for how you see or behold that phrase and what God might be suggesting to you?
  • What does the story of Peter and John suggest about ‘being awake’ and seeing his glory? Are you asleep to the workings of God’s Glory in your life? Do you give God the Glory for his patient work in transforming your heart?



Pray the Gloria slowly, as your own hymn of praise to God. Ask God for the grace of beholding his glory as a window on your life and its purpose.

Day 14: Sunday

Week Three: The canticle of the angels (the Gloria) – Luke 2:14


Day 14: Sunday



Angel with the words “Gloria in Excelsis Deo et in terra pax” by Dalziel Brothers

The names given to each of Luke’s Canticles are from the first word of each Latin Vulgate translation. Therefore the Gloria comes from Gloria in altissimis Deo, or “Glory to God in the highest…” The four canticles of Luke’s Gospel bookend the birth of the Christ Child. In Luke’s narrative, the Magnificat and the Benedictus are presented directly before the scene of Jesus’ birth, and the Gloria and the Nunc dimittis immediately follow. With the Gloria, therefore, the reader enters the latter portion of the four beautiful songs after the birth of Jesus, all of which point to the birth of Jesus.


Read Luke 2:9-14, the lines of which provide the context for the canticle of the angels. Read slowly, and listen with the “ear of your heart.” What stands out to you? Consider this and ponder it in your heart. Let it settle there. Savor it. Note it in your journal.


“And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.”


The Gloria. This one line in a melody of heavenly song – is a singular moment in the Scriptures, redolent of unfathomable beauty. It is distinguished from the other three canticles in Luke’s gospel by the of the nature of its cantors: the canticle is sung by angels, and not merely several, but a “multitude of the heavenly host.” Angels are the first to proclaim the good news of the Savior’s birth, an act that Luke clearly features in the rest of his Gospel. Darrel L. Bock, in his commentary on Luke, writes “All uses of the verb in the Gospels are found in Luke except one (Matt. 11:5; Luke 1:19; 2:10; 3:18; 4:18, 43; 7:22; 8:1; 9:6; 16:16; 20:1).” Angels are also the first to give praise to God after the Savior is born. To appreciate the short, choral structure of their one line of praise, it is helpful to think of their hymn as does Bock: “Angelic praise serves the same function literarily for Luke as do choruses in Greek dramas – they supply commentary. Thus, angels reveal to the shepherds through praise what the result of Jesus’ coming should mean. Heaven addresses earth about Jesus’ significance.”


The great theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar, wrote in his Magnum Opus, The Glory of the Lord (Vol 6), “The whole movement of revelation has as its goal to make image and glory coincide in Jesus Christ.” In Christ, God’s glory and man’s image meet. Through the ages, the Church has continued to sing the angels’ hymn. By the birth of Christ who restores all things in heaven and on earth (Eph., i, 10), angels and men, separated by original sin, are now reconciled; men may now hope some day to join in the angels’ hymns.


  • Listen to Antonio Vivaldi’s Gloria. Meditate on the aspect of this song that stood out to you as you listen.   When you are finished, note any impressions which came to you in your journal.



Day 13: Saturday

Saturday: Recap

Recap what Christ is saying to me through this passage? How might I follow this lead in my life going forward?


As you review this week’s study of Zachariah’s Benedictus, read back through your Advent journal and consider what God is showing you through your time with him.


As we have learned this week, Zachariah is linking his song of praise to very specific covenants given in the Old Testament. He is arguing that all three covenants are fulfilled in the birth of Jesus: a covenant to David, a covenant to Abraham, and a covenant about the forgiveness of sins, known as the New Covenant, presented in Jeremiah 31.


All three of those covenants are what we would call “salvific” or salvation covenants, saving covenants.  That is, they have to do with blessings that come by salvation. So this is a very critical text.  For Luke it’s essential because the story that he begins is the story of salvation. Luke wants to be certain he is not misunderstood as presenting something altogether new.  Rather, he is presenting something that fulfills something very old.  Luke wants us to understand that the coming of the forerunner, John the Baptist, and the coming of the Messiah, Jesus, inaugurates the fulfillment of God’s promised redemption: the fulfillment of Davidic Covenant, Abrahamic Covenant and New Covenant features.


And yet, through this, Zechariah sings. Full of wild hope, he sings. Knowing the state of the world, he sings. And he closes his canticle with these words:


By the tender mercy of our God,

the dawn from on high will break upon us,

to give light to those who sit in darkness 
and in the shadow of death,

to guide our feet into the way of peace.


These lines are bound together with sunrise. Each of us and all of us around the world who sing these words at the outset of the day at morning prayer sing them not in response to the coming of dawn but rather to help ensure it.  Surely, the physical rising of the sun does not depend on us. But there is a kind of light that depends on our waiting for it, watching for it, singing it into this world. And when we can’t, God bids us trust that there are others watching and waiting and singing on our behalf and on behalf of the world.


And at Christmastime, as those of us in the northern hemisphere journey through the darkest part of the year, we draw on these words and pray for tender mercy. Like Zechariah, we pray for the state of our world, we pray in the place where wild hope is born. Listen quietly to the of Zachariah, praying, just as we pray his words at dawn. Pray for dawn. Pray the dawn. In darkness, sing. In the shadow of death, we sing  Blessing and we are Blessed. Amid the shadows, lift your voice in blessing and peace.



Considering these two aspects, the fulfillment of the covenants of old and the song of waiting for light, note the following in your journal.


  • What light has come from watching and waiting this week as you have read and prayed the Benedictus?
  • How has this great saving light helped you to sing in the darkness, and know your are blessed?
  • What has this light highlighted about your own life transformed with Christ? What is your wild hope?
  • How does this change how you will live and what you will choose to do?
  • How might you sing this light and blessing on behalf of the world?



Pray these last four lines of the Benedictus, asking God to make them your own morning prayer for light in the darkness, guiding your steps in the way of peace. Thank God for his blessing of salvation and light, and ask him to show you how to sing your praise and thanksgiving for the life of the world.

Day 12: Friday (Christmas)

Today, as a little Christmas gift, we offer this short video for you to enjoy and savor. Tomorrow, we will finish our walk through the Benedictus and Sunday we will begin our walk through the Gloria. But for today, just rest and savor  the grace of Christmas.
Christmas is the day that holds all time together.–Alexander Smith, author (1830-1867)
Enjoy this beautiful art and music from the Benedictus, Zachariah’s song.

Day 12: Thursday (Christmas Eve)

Thursday, Day 12 (Christmas Eve)


Respond (Act)

What does this mean for me? For the life of the World? For my role in the world?  As you meditate on Zachariah’s Benedictus today (Luke 1:68-79), consider what kind of transformation Jesus is highlighting for you. Reflect back on your journal notes and on the word or phrase which stood out to you in this song. Consider the relationship between that word or phrase and transformation.

In today’s reflection, following the progression of the four “movements” in the Lectio Divina method of spiritual reading, or reading with God (Read, Reflect, Respond and Rest), we will consider not only the movement within our own hearts, and what Zachariah’s songs means for us, but we will explore what it means for the life of the world and our role in the world. Lectio is a way of listening to the texts of Scripture as if we were in conversation with Christ and He was suggesting the topics of conversation. Yesterday, our response took the form of prayer for guidance. As you study today, consider what it is that Christ may be leading you to do and how you will Respond to his leading.


For the past few days we have been noting that Zachariah’s Benedictus serves as an exposition of themes that Luke continues to develop in his narrative. We have explored the themes of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, which is the context for what follows; the act of benediction (blessing), for which Zachariah’s canticle is named; and the forgiveness of sins. Today, we will ask to what end we will put this salvation from our sins, the burden of self-focus which alienates us from God and from each other.


We will ask ourselves what is the goal of this salvation, this rescue? Here is perhaps the most insightful part of the hymn. Zechariah is not retreating from life or looking only to a future reward in heaven. His heart’s desire is to serve [God] without fear in holiness and righteousness before him all our days. He wishes to live in the present, be saved for the present. This is the expression of a soul turned to God, a soul who wishes to have Life Abundant because of his or her relationship with Jesus Christ. And this life abundant provides us with the purpose and meaning we seek: the meaning and purpose of Life comes in service to a holy God. By saying our days, 
Zechariah represents each of us who share this desire to live a restored life turned towards God in service. Salvation enables those who accept it and allow it to transform every aspect of their lives.


Moved by God’s Spirit, Zechariah tells us what this Messiah brings to those who trust and follow Him. There will be transformation in several aspects:  spiritual transformation, v. 74: “to serve Him.” There will be emotional transformation, v. 74: “to serve Him without fear.” And there will be behavioral transformation
, v. 75: “In holiness and righteousness in His presence all our days.” So many people live lives of quiet desperation. They eek out an existence on a treadmill of futility, wondering what difference it all makes. But an old priest sees the end to all that in God’s Deliverer, whom we know as Jesus Christ.
Alexander Schlemann, in his wonderful book “For the Life of the World,” writes this about the transformation Christ brings to our lives:
“We know now that the event of Christ must transform everything to do with our lives. It was only because of Christ that we had the heart to glory in the creation…, only because He gave us the eyes to “behold God’s gracious hand in all his works.” Now in the time in which we can thank God for Christ, we begin to understand that everything is transformed in Christ into its true wonder. In the radiance of His light the world is not commonplace. The very floor we stand on is a miracle of atoms whizzing about in space. The darkness of sin is clarified, and its burden shouldered. Death is robbed of its finality, trampled down by Christ’s death. In a world where everything that seems to be present is immediately past, everything in Christ is able to participate.”
  • What is the “true wonder” of which Schlemann writes? Consider how Christ’s radiance itself is transforming.
  • Consider the three aspects of transformation highlighted in Zachariah’s song. What is Jesus showing you about the three aspects of transformation in your own life. Note your responses in your journal.
    • What aspect of spiritual transformation comes to mind? How might this be reflected in a life of service?
    • What aspect of emotional transformation comes to mind? How might this be reflected in freedom from fear? From what fears do you need to be rescued in order to serve God freely?
    • What aspect of behavioral transformation comes to mind? How might this be reflected in living in “holiness and righteousness.”
  • God seeks to transform every aspect of our life, to save us in full. In what ways is God suggesting that your life today, in the present, be transformed by this immediate gift? Think about the word of phrase that stood out to you in the passage. How is this related to your transformation?
  • Reflect again on the three aspects of transformation. For each, how does it change how you will live and what you will choose to do for the life of the world?


Day 11: Wednesday

Wednesday: Day 11


Today is the last day we say the beautiful O Antiphons of Advent. It is especially in the final week of Advent that our attention is fixed on the messianic promises proclaimed by the ancient prophets of Israel. They add a mood of eager expectation to the liturgy that builds throughout these seven days and climaxes at Christmas. The O Antiphons have been described as “a unique work of art and a special ornament of the pre-Christmas liturgy, filled with the Spirit of the Word of God”. They “create a poetry that fills the liturgy with its splendor”, and their composer shows “a magnificent command of the Bible’s wealth of motifs”. The antiphons are, in fact, a collage of Old Testament types of Christ. Jesus is invoked by various titles, mainly taken from the prophet Isaiah. The sequence progresses historically, from the beginning, before creation, to the very gates of Bethlehem.


In their structure, each of the seven antiphons follows the same pattern, resembling a traditional liturgical prayer. Each O Antiphon begins with an invocation of the expected Messiah, followed by praise of him under one of his particular titles. Each ends with a petition for God’s people, relevant to the title by which he is addressed, and the cry for him to “Come”.  In the liturgy, they are often employed as a window through which to view the praying of the  Magnificat.  Consider how today’s antiphon might be a window through which you look through  Zachariah’s prayer.


The O Antiphon for December 23 is:


O Emmanuel, our King and Lawgiver, the Expected of the nations and their Savior. Come and save us, O Lord our God.

Isaiah 7:14: “Therefore the Lord himself will give you this sign: the virgin shall be with child, and bear a son, and shall name him Emmanuel”.


Isaiah 33:22: “Indeed the Lord will be there with us, majestic. Yes, the Lord our judge, the Lord our lawgiver, the Lord our king, he it is who will save us”.


With this last antiphon our expectation finds joy now in the certainty of fulfillment. We call Jesus by one of the most personal and intimate of his titles, Emmanuel, God-with-us. We recall that in his birth from the Virgin Mary God takes on our very flesh and human nature: God coming nearer to us than we could have ever imagined! Yet he is also to be exalted above us as our king, the lawgiver and judge, the one whom we honor and obey. And he is our savior, long-expected by all creation. The final cry rises from us urgent in our need for daily salvation and forgiveness of our sins, and confident that our God will not withhold himself from us.


Vision of Zacharias, James Tissot (1894)

Reflect (Pray), part II.


Read the Benedictus (Luke 1:68-79) again, this time allowing God to speak in the silence following. What prayer or thanksgiving arises?


As we have explored Zachariah’s song, or canticle, The Benedictus, we have highlighted two themes. The first is that of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, which is the context for what follows. The second theme, a splendid one: is the act of benediction, for which Zachariah’s canticle is named. Today, we will consider the third theme from the Benedictus, the forgiveness of sins. As we noted in today’s Advent O Antiphon, we await the daily salvation and forgiveness of sins that Emmanuel, God with us, brings. What does it mean to enjoy daily salvation, to be saved for the here and now? So often we think of salvation in terms of eternity and neglect the grace that transforms our present.


The expression ‘forgiveness of sins’ is a favorite of Luke’s; 8 of 11 NT occurrences are found in Luke-Acts. The most important such occurrence for understanding its use here is Luke 3:3: John preached ‘a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins’. The reference to forgiveness of sins in the Benedictus is suggested in Zachariah’s description of his son John’s mission. John will be called “the prophet of the Highest: for thou shalt go before the face of the Lord to prepare his ways; to give knowledge of salvation unto his people by the remission of their sins” (Luke 1:76-77).


John the Baptist’s mission as a preparer of the way fits the portrait of the other gospel writers, but Luke is the clearest in associating the forerunner role with the content of John’s message: salvation, the forgiveness of sins, and baptism of repentance (Luke 3:3; 24:47; Acts 10:37). In Luke’s view, the emphasis on forgiveness is also a major part of Jesus’ ministry (Luke 4:18). In addition, Jesus’ ministry and the apostolic preaching emphasize repentance (Luke 24:47 [the message of Luke’s Great Commission]; Acts 5:31; 13:38; 17:30; 20:21).


The themes of repentance and forgiveness go hand in hand in Luke’s Gospel and are emphasized by John, by Jesus and by Peter. Luke says of John, “And he came into all the country about Jordan, preaching the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins” (3:3). The theological pair of repentance and forgiveness characterizing Jesus’ ministry on earth also constitutes the thrust his disciples’ mission after He is ascended into heaven. Jesus tells his disciples in Luke 24:47 that “repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.” We see in Acts 2:38 that the disciples obey this command: “Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins.”


Luke’s gospel also emphasizes that Christ’s ability to forgive sins identifies him as God, as displayed in the following passages in Luke 5 and 7: And when he saw their faith, he said unto him, Man, thy sins are forgiven thee. And the scribes and the Pharisees began to reason, saying, Who is this which speaketh blasphemies? Who can forgive sins, but God alone? But when Jesus perceived their thoughts, he answering said unto them, What reason ye in your hearts? Whether is easier, to say, thy sins be forgiven thee; or to say, Rise up and walk? But that ye may know that the Son of man hath power upon earth to forgive sins, (he said unto the sick of the palsy,) I say unto thee, Arise, and take up thy couch, and go into thine house. (Luke 5:20-24). Wherefore I say unto thee, Her sins, which are many, are forgiven; for she loved much: but to whom little is forgiven, the same loveth little. And he said unto her, Thy sins are forgiven. And they that sat at meat with him began to say within themselves, Who is this that forgiveth sins also? And he said to the woman, Thy faith hath saved thee; go in peace (Luke 7:47-50).


  • As you imagine yourself singing Zachariah’s song after his long months of silence, what does your own time of silence indicate about your need for forgiveness? From what attachments of disorders in your life might God be trying to free you? Note this in your journal.
  • Consider Zacharias’ “breaking out in song” after the long time of silence. What song comes to mind that you would like to sing to Jesus?
  • Consider the two themes of forgiveness of sins and the baptism of repentance. Why is repenting of sins a baptism? How does it invite a new life of “God with you”?  What aspect of this new life is God showing you through this study? Note this in your journal.
  • As with Mary’s Magnificat, reflect on how God’s gift of the forgiveness of sins, “the ‘nearness and immediacy of Jesus’ salvific presence” as proclaimed by the angels, comes fully to you? In what way is God suggesting that your life today, in the present, be transformed by this immediate gift? Think about the word of phrase that stood out to you in the passage. How is this related to this forgiveness of sins?


Thank God for his tremendous gift of the forgiveness of sin. Ask him to make known to you how this saving presence might transform your present and to release you from the bondage of your own sins. Like Zacharias, let the silence of Advent be a gift and allow your spirit to rejoice in God with you.
Listen to this beautiful singing of the Benedictus and enjoy the great art it has inspired.

Day 10: Tuesday

Tuesday, Day 10


Beginning on December 17, as the final phase of preparation for Christmas, the Church, since ancient times, has recited these “O Antiphons” during Vespers of the Liturgy of the Hours as a window through which to view the Magnificat, the Canticle of Mary, which comes after in the liturgy. Each one describes an aspect of Christ, the one for whom we wait during Advent, as prophesized in the Old Testament. The Benedictine monks, who first arranged these antiphons, did so with a definite purpose. If one starts with the last title and takes the first letter of each one: Emmanuel, Rex, Oriens, Clavis, Radix, Adonai, Sapienta, the Latin words “ero cras” are formed, meaning “Tomorrow, I will come” And so he does.


Today’s O Antiphon for December 22 is:


O King of the Gentiles and the Desired of all, you are the cornerstone that binds two into one. Come, and save man whom you fashioned out of clay.


Isaiah 28:16: “Therefore, thus says the Lord God: See, I am laying a stone in Zion, a stone that has been tested, a precious cornerstone as a sure foundation”.


Ephesians 2:14: “He it is who is our peace, and who made the two of us one by breaking down the barrier of hostility that kept us apart”.


The earlier antiphons have already alluded to the Messiah coming not only to Israel but to convert the gentile nations and redeem them for his own. Now this sixth antiphon clearly addresses the savior as the king of the gentiles (Jer.10:7) and the Desired One of the nations. The Messiah is the cornerstone on whom our spiritual foundations are laid, but on whom unbelievers stumble (Matt. 21:42). This cornerstone unites and binds Jew and gentile into one, making peace between them.


The plea is that God save all humanity, all his creation that he formed from the dust of the earth (Gen.2:7).  and the extent of the promises (since the world began v.70). This reveals a mind made clear.
  • How does Christ, who breathes new life into us, give us, like Zachariah, a “Mind made clear”?


Jesus’ teachings, as well as His Person, His Promises, and His Power have inspired artists like Raphael, Michelangelo and Leonardo de Vinci to paint glorious scenes; he has inspirited the hearts of Dante and Milton and Donne to erupt in poetic verse; and the greatest music and songs of the ages came from those whose lives were touched by Christ: Haydn, Handel, Bach, and Mendelssohn, all, composed to the praise of Jesus Christ. Some have argued that Jesus Christ changed Mendelssohn’s music from a minor key to a major key.
This is the picture of what happened to Zechariah. The music of the Lord invaded his soul. It is the music of wonder and joy and freedom when the Word of the God comes in power to announce that salvation is at hand.


  • Consider what God is showing you about the music of wonder and joy and freedom, which is the Life Abundant God offers you. Are you allowing his music to invade your soul? Can you, like Zachariah, take advantage of the Silence of the Season to quiet your heart enough to hear the music playing? As you ponder this in your heart, what blessing comes to mind? Note this in your journal.
Annunciation of the Angel to Zachariah, Dominico Ghirlandaio, 1490, Fresco, Florence
Yesterday we explored the first theme in Zachariah’s song, that of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, which is the context for what follows. Today, we will consider the second theme, a splendid one: the act of benediction, for which Zachariah’s canticle is named. What is a benediction?   It is the bestowing of divine blessing given in the Bible. It represents a joyful, unifying call to faith, patience, and practice for the faithful, based on the Certainty, divine Principle: God. It voices images of protection, or comfort, or abundance, or some other word of assurance.


The word benediction means to say good, to voice good thoughts, to pronounce. What makes good thoughts good is that they are based on Truth, based on Principle, God. Whatever is true fulfills itself. Good is the inevitable result of the certainty and righteousness of Truth, God, who is all good. The reading aloud of a benediction is joy expressed, and cherished, and shared with all in its hearing. It is a feast. It is the essence of genuine, heartfelt joy and commitment, seen in the exalted light of spiritual interpretation.   It is part of “the meal” that blesses all.


A benedictus has its Hebrew counterpart in the prayer of berakah. formula of blessing or thanksgiving, recited in public or private, usually before the performance of a commandment, or the enjoyment of food or fragrance, and in praise on various occasions. The function of a berakhah  is to acknowledge God as the source of all blessing. Berakhot also have an educational function to transform a variety of everyday actions and occurrences into religious experiences designed to increase awareness of God at all times. Berakah is a sacramental approach to life, seeing God in the course of our lives.
  • How does this sacramental approach to life invite the music God wants to play in our hearts?
  • How might you embrace this approach in your own life? Note this in your journal.


Jewish usage of this blessing included two primary objects of the blessing: God Himself, and a meal. In Luke’s Gospel, God and meal unite sacramentally in Christ’s institution of the Eucharist. Thus, in the same way that Zachariah blesses the Lord God of Israel in Luke 1:68, and Simeon takes up the child Jesus and blesses God in 2:28, so Jesus as a grown man is blessed riding into Jerusalem on a donkey, a sacrificial victim on his way to the altar: “Blessed be the King that cometh in the name of the Lord!” (Luke 19:38).


Jesus uses the same word in blessing the bread at the Last Supper (Matt. 26:26, Mark 14:22), and again in Luke 24, he uses it in the blessing of the bread at Emmaus. It is in this moment that Christ’s identity is revealed to the two disciples: “And it came to pass, as he sat at meat with them, he took bread, and blessed it, and brake, and gave to them. And their eyes were opened, and they knew him; and he vanished out of their sight” (24:30-31). After Christ’s ascension, his followers continued his practice of blessing bread, and blessing God. Indeed, Luke closes his Gospel with words describing this action: “And were continually in the temple, praising and blessing God. Amen” (24:53).


  • Consider how Zachariah’s time of silence was the bestowal of a great blessing that opened his eyes. How might you use the time of Advent to allow God to bless you in this way and invite his music to play in your heart?
  • How has God opened your eyes by praying Zachariah’s prayer? What comes to mind? Note this in your journal.
  • How does this new sight change how you will live and what you will do for the life of the world?



Acknowledge God as the source of all blessing and ask him to grant you the grace of “eyes made clear” so that you might see his hand at work in your life and that this breath of new life might invade your soul and transform your spirit.

Day 9: Monday

Monday: Day 9


The O Antiphons,

These seven prayers sung each day beginning on December 17 and ending on December 23 along with the Magnificat, are among the richest treasures of Advent.  They remind us that Christ, whose glorious return we anticipate and patiently await during Advent, is surrounding and sustaining us already. He is truly Emmanuel, “God among us,” for he is at once the wisdom who creates and orders the universe, the lawgiver who establishes righteousness through Israel and the Church, the redeemer who has overcome death and rescued his creation from sin, and the great king who is drawing his children from every nation and restoring them in love.
Today’s antiphon is reflected in the Benedictus. The first part of the canticle, a song of thanksgiving for the coming of the Redeemer, finds an appropriate place
The allusion to Christ’s coming under the figure of the rising sun “O Rising Dawn,” is believed to have influenced Benedict’s choice. The beauty of these antiphons is stunning; their reference to Old Testament prophesy concerning the coming of Christ is even more stunning. 


Today’s O Antiphon for December 21 is:


O Rising Dawn, Radiance of the Light eternal and Sun of Justice: come and enlighten those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death.


Isaiah 9:1: “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light. Upon those who dwelt in the land of gloom a light has shone”.

Malachi 3:20: “For you who fear my name, there will arise the sun of justice with its healing rays”.

2 Peter 1:19: “Keep your attention closely fixed on it, as you would on a lamp shining in a dark place, until the first streaks of dawn appear and the morning star rises in your heart”.


This title is variously translated “morning star”, “Dayspring”, “rising sun”, “radiant dawn”, “orient”. All beautifully express the idea of light shattering the darkness of night, of sin and death, of sickness and despair, with its brightness bringing healing and warmth to cold hearts. Jesus is indeed the true light, the radiance of his Father’s splendor. The church prays this petition daily in the Benedictus, joining in the words of Zechariah: “He, the Dayspring, shall visit us in his mercy to shine on those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death” (Luke 1:78-79).

zachary annunciation


Niccolo di Giacomo (c. 1325 – c. 1403) (known also as Niccolò da Bologna)
Gabriel announces to Zacharias

From Missal said to be of Clément VII and Urban VTempera, gold, and ink on parchment
c. 1370


Read the Scripture Passage, Zachariah’s Benedictus (Luke 1:68-79) again slowly and prayerfully. Listen with the “ear of your heart” and Reflect. Let an attitude of quiet receptiveness permeate your reading. What phrase, sentence or even one word stands out to you? Be attentive to what speaks to your heart. Allow that phrase or word to settle deeply in your heart. Think

about what it means for you.


  • What Phrase or Word stands to you? Note this in your journal.
  • Imagine yourself in Zachariah’s place. How does the word of phrase that stands out to you speak to you as you stand in Zachariah’s shoes? Your own shoes?
  • In what ways is Jesus shining light on your heart (O Rising Dawn, come and enlighten me) through Zachariah’s example?


The first theme we will explore from the Benedictus is not specifically referred to in Zachariah’s hymn, but provides the context for it

: the indwelling of the Holy Spirit (Luke 1:67) in believers. 

For Luke, this theme is prominent, as is indicated from the primary role of Pentecost in his narrative, and many examples of the Holy Spirit’s work in the lives of Jesus’ followers. The following references to the Holy Spirit may be found in Luke, and serve to illustrate the various and permeating uses of this theme throughout Luke’s Gospel:
  • “baptized with the Holy Spirit,” Luke 3:16; Acts 1:5; 11:16)
  • “through the Holy Spirit,” Acts 1:2; 4:25; 11:28; 21:4)
  • “I will pour out My Spirit,” Acts 2:17, 18,33; 10:45)
  • “receive the Holy Spirit,” Acts 8:15; 10:44; 11:15)
  • “receive the Holy Spirit,” Acts 8:15,17,19; 10:47;19:2)
  • “the Holy Spirit said,” Acts 8:29; 10:19; 11:12; 13:2)
  • “Spirit” used to refer to the Holy Spirit, Luke 2:27; 4:1,14; Acts 2:4; 6:3,10; 8:18,29; 10:19; 11:12,28; 16:16,18; 20:22; 21:4)


Commentators have also noticed a great connection between the Holy Spirit and prayer in Luke, a connection that is present from the very beginning in the narratives and hymns. David Jeffrey in his book,
, writes:


“The theme of prayer and answered prayer is evident from the beginning in the annunciation and nativity narratives peculiar to Luke: Zachariah’s prayer is answered (1:13), Simeon’s prayer is a prominent prayer of grateful benediction (2:22-28), and the poems of both Mary and Zacharias (her Magnificat and his Benedictus) are highlights of Luke 1. When at his baptism Jesus prays, the heavens open and the dove of the Holy Spirit descends (3:21-22); when Jesus prays from the cross, the temple veil is rent from top to bottom (23:44-46).”


The connection of prayer to a powerful presence of the Holy Spirit is central in Luke’s writing.   The promise of the infilling of the Holy Spirit is already there in the words of the angel Gabriel to Zacharias as he serves at the altar (Luke 1:15), and the Spirit is promised to Mary on her prayerful acquiescence (1:35-38) and then comes to Elizabeth and the babe in her womb simply at Mary’s greeting (1:41); Simeon is filled with the Holy Spirit as he prays (2:26-32). These connections are not all unique to Luke (e.g., Matt. 18:20), but they are highlighted sufficiently that when viewed in concert that it is clear the prayer of the Lord, the prayer of his disciples, and the presence of the Holy Spirit as among the major themes Luke chose to feature.


  • Consider your prayer as an invitation to the powerful presence of the Holy Spirit. How does this influence how you see yourself in Zachariah’s shoes? Note this in your journal.



Pray the Benedictus, mindful of the powerful presence of the Holy Spirit as you pray. As you finish, ask God to come and shine his radiant light on your heart so that you may See where he is leading you through the study of these Canticles of Luke.