The Aramaic name, Zechariah, in Aramaic means, “Yah/God’s Personal Name, Remembers,” “Zechar.” Elizabeth means, “The Oath of Elijah,” In Aramaic. The Oath of Elijah was sterile. Zechariah has a conversation with Gabriel, “Strength of God.” Zechariah says, “How shall I know this?” Zechariah has remembrance, but of times gone by. The poor in this nation remember the times gone by when this country was trying to make a better place for the poorest among us.
Luke relates how Zechariah was going through the motions of liturgy in the temple when he meets Gabriel, “Strength of God.” It is a stale liturgy; the people having lost all hope. Zechariah was a man of class, one of the aristocracy, having a position allowing him to participate as one of the 24 priests in the temple. He and Elizabeth allow one of the riff raff, a young, unmarried, pregnant girl into their home, for three months. How many of us would consider doing that today, even if they are at least shirttail relatives? The Kennedy clan represents Zechariah with their concern for the poor.
Our reading for the last Sunday of Advent is when Mary, whose Aramaic name means, “Leadership,” comes to start this three-month stay. They do not greet this poor girl with condemning words, “How dare you shame the family and then come here, unmarried and pregnant like that?” Gabriel only relates of John the Baptist. When this girl comes to their home, they see the joy of a new life coming into this world. Can we say the same about unwanted pregnancy in our time?
There is much in common between the first century and of a century ago. Luke was a physician, not from Palestine. In common with our recent past, is the layout of the typical Roman city. As in our cities, there was the Jewish quarter, the German quarter… only the ethnic groups were different. As with our cities with their Yiddish quarter, the people predominantly spoke Yiddish/Aramaic and they followed the Jewish customs of their day. They were ethnic Jews living in an ethnic quarter of a multi-cultural city. As in the case of our cities, the people were predominantly poor. There were a few rich; examples being Luke the Physician and Zechariah in Jerusalem.
Zechariah lived in Judah. “Judah” means, “Thanksgiving.” The Greek word for “Thanksgiving” is “Eucharist.” Mary comes to the land of Eucharist/Thanksgiving, where she meets a wealthy priest, who as priest represents the nation. He sees the suffering of his people and as a result lives in despair. When Mary arrives, she brings joy, hope to this family. When we say our rosary, do we ask God how to live by her example? As a nation, do we despair in the suffering of the poor among us, and strive to bring them joy? When we partake of Eucharist, does it remind us to bring joy to our world? Is this not the great promise of Christmas, hope and joy for all people?