The time came for Elizabeth to have her child, and she gave birth to a son; and when
her neighbours and relations heard that the Lord had shown her so great a kindness, they shared her joy.
Now on the eighth day they came to circumcise the child; they were going to call him Zechariah after his father, but his mother spoke up. ‘No,’ she said ‘he is to be called John.’ They said to her, ‘But no one in your family has that name’, and made signs to his father to find out what he wanted him called. The father asked for a writing-tablet and wrote, ‘His name is John.’ And they were all astonished. At that instant his power of speech returned and he spoke and praised God. All their neighbours were filled with awe and the whole affair was talked about throughout the hill country of Judaea. All those who heard of it treasured it in their hearts. ‘What will this child turn out to be?’ they wondered. And indeed the hand of the Lord was with him.
Today’s reading concludes the strange story of the birth of John the Baptist. Zechariah, his father, had entered into the Holy of Holies and been struck dumb. Surely he must have been a talkative man (even when he cannot speak he needs to write things out), and yet his speech falls silent in the presence of the Holy One. As we heard in the O Antiphon a few days ago: ‘kings fall silent before you’. Periods of silence punctuate the scriptures at regular intervals (we can think of Elijah at the cave of the heart and the moment in the tumult of the Book of Revelation when ‘all is silent for half an hour’). Now we have the pregnant silence out of which the Eternal Word will be spoken. ‘In the beginning was the conversation’ so translated Erasmus the beginning of John’s Gospel, and we are brought on the threshold of Christmas to the choreography between silence and speech, saying and showing. Like his son, Zechariah points the way to the source of Being, who must lie in silence.
As we enter into the birth of the Conversation in the soul tomorrow let us remember to keep a little silence today to allow the words to say by their showing.