Readings: Judges 13:2-7, 24-25; Psalm 71; Luke 1:5-25
Every child is a gift from God. It is one of the reasons why the Church has a teaching about sexual behaviour. Our regard for the dignity of the human being is seen in how we receive and value children. They are among the most vulnerable people and how we treat the vulnerable is how we treat humanity as a whole.
In some situations this great truth - that every child is a gift from God - is more clearly seen. We read about two such situations at Mass today. The accounts are so close that some might be tempted to say that the second one is simply a retelling of the first. But there is no reason why God's gift of a child to elderly parents should not come about in ways that are very alike.
The parents of Samson receive him after a visit from an angel of the Lord. The child's arrival is a surprise, more obviously grace than is the fruit of other, more normal, pregnancies. But perhaps the arrival of such children is also to remind us of how extraordinary a blessing any pregnancy is: new life, a new human being, soon to be with us, 'trailing clouds of glory', as Wordsworth put it.
John the Baptist's conception is equally remarkable ('I am an old man and my wife is advanced in years'). Like Samson, John will be specially dedicated to God, a man with a mission on behalf of the people. The long hair is not so important as the fact that in each of these children of grace the Spirit of the Lord will be vibrantly present, powerfully active. God is at work among His people. Zechariah's mystification and subsequent silence is not all that strange as a response to a heavenly visitor and his initial incredulity is placed at the service of what God reveals through the birth of John the Baptist.
These remarkable pregnancies are recalled now, in the closing days of Advent, to set the scene for the most extraordinary conception and birth, that of Jesus, conceived of the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary. Every child is a gift from God. This is true more than ever of the child whose birth we celebrate at Christmas, the only Son of the Father, the first-born of all creation, the first-born from the dead.
Today's 'O' antiphon speaks of kings falling silent before the root or stock of Jesse, the king of the House of David who is to come. Zechariah falls silent. We read in the Book of Wisdom that it was 'while gentle silence enveloped all things, and night in its swift course was now half gone' that the 'all-powerful word leaped from heaven, from the royal throne, into the midst of the land that was doomed' (Wisdom 18:).
In these final days of Advent let us try to find some moments of silence in which to give thanks for the child of God each one of us is; for the children we have known and know, each one a gift of God; and for the Child, the only-begotten of the Father, filled with the Spirit of truth and love, whose birth establishes our dignity, restores our hope, and enlightens all our darknesses.