While Zechariah was performing his priestly duties, the angel Gabriel appeared to him, announcing that his wife would bear him a son and they were to call the boy John. Zechariah scarcely believed the angel, so that Gabriel decreed he remain dumb until the prophecy was fulfilled.
The time came for the birth of John (who was to be known as the Baptist). Zechariah was still dumb, and Elizabeth's neighbors and relatives wanted to call the baby after his father. But Elizabeth said, 'He shall be called John.' Zechariah too wrote the name 'John' on a tablet. So the boy was circumcised. Speech came back to the old father, who praised God, for (he said) 'he has visited and redeemed his people'. John, he said, would 'be the prophet of the Most High and go before the Lord to prepare his ways'.
A later tradition holds that Zechariah was murdered in the Temple for refusing to tell Herod the whereabouts of his son.
From A Calendar of Saints,
The Lives of the Principal Saints of the Christian Year
The Canticle of Zachariah
Blessed be the Lord,
the God of Israel,
for he has visited his people,
he has come to their rescue
and has raised up for us
a power of salvation
in the house of his servant David;
even as he proclaimed,
by the mouth of his holy prophets
from ancient times,
that he would save us from our enemies
and from the hands of all who hate us.
Thus he shows mercy to our ancestors,
thus he remembers his holy covenant;
the oath he swore
to our father Abraham
that he would grant us,
free from fear,
to be delivered from the hands of our enemies,
to serve him in holiness and virtue
in his presence,
all our days.
And you, little child,
you shall be called prophet of the Most High,
for you will go before the Lord
to prepare the way for him,
to give his people knowledge of salvation
through the forgiveness of their sins;
this by the tender mercy of our God
who from on high
will bring the rising Sun to visit us,
to give light to those who live
in darkness and the shadow of death,
and to guide our feet
into the way of peace.
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