Luke 1:57-66, 80
The Birth of John the Baptist
by Rev. Jack Peterson, YA
Reprinted with permission of "The Arlington Catholic Herald"
To Sunday Gospel Reflections Index
Written by Luke to explain that
Christ came to save everyone.
When the time arrived for Elizabeth to have her child she gave birth to a son. Her neighbors and relatives heard that the Lord had shown his great mercy toward her, and they rejoiced with her. When they came on the eighth day to circumcise the child, they were going to call him Zechariah after his father, but his mother said in reply, "No. He will be called John." But they answered her, "There is no one among your relatives who has this name." So they made signs, asking his father what he wished him to be called. He asked for a tablet and wrote, "John is his name," and all were amazed. Immediately his mouth was opened, his tongue freed, and he spoke blessing God. Then fear came upon all their neighbors, and all these matters were discussed throughout the hill country of Judea. All who heard these things took them to heart, saying, "What, then, will this child be?" For surely the hand of the Lord was with him.
The child grew and became strong in spirit, and he was in the desert until the day of his manifestation to Israel.
Today’s feast of the Nativity of St. John the Baptist is marked by joy and mystery. Both realities are woven beautifully into the events that surround this exciting and unexpected birth of Jesus’ cousin and forerunner.
Elizabeth and Zechariah are beyond child-bearing years; plus, they have been barren. At this stage in their lives their pregnancy is completely unexpected. The mysterious grace of this birth in their old age proclaims that this child and his life-project are the work of God. There is no human explanation for what is happening to them. By this birth, God says to them, “Know that I am God, that I am acting in your lives.”
There is mystery surrounding Zechariah as a father. The Lord makes him unable to speak for the duration of the pregnancy. (Some wives might suggest that God should do that more regularly.) Zechariah is a man of faith, described in Luke’s Gospel as “righteous in the eyes of God.” Yet, his lack of faith in this particular offer from the Lord brings about this unusual chastisement. We can take comfort in the fact that God uses this time of quiet in his life to bestow many graces upon him. At the time of John’s birth, Zechariah sings one of the greatest hymns of praise that we have in the Scriptures. He demonstrates beautiful obedience in naming his son John. God often prunes us in order to help us bear more fruit.
John proceeds to bring astounding joy into his parents’ lives. Three months prior, John himself had leaped in Elizabeth’s womb when Mary arrived from Nazareth pregnant with Jesus. John was startled by the presence of the one who would redeem the world and restore life and hope to mankind. His tiny little heart rejoiced, so near was our salvation. The child’s joy quickly became the mother’s joy.
On the day of his birth, the level of joy in the home and town of Elizabeth and Zechariah must have been palatable. God was faithful to His promise. This old and barren couple had become a family of three. And they knew that this child would have a very special place in God’s plan. “You my child shall be called the prophet of the Most High.”
As Christians living two millennia after John, we have additional reasons for rejoicing today. We know what will happen to this unexpected child. He will grow up to become the last of the great prophets and the only privileged to present the Messiah and Lord to the world, “Behold the Lamb of God.” He will help prepare the world to embrace its Savior by preaching a baptism of repentance. He will end up being imprisoned for speaking the truth (about marriage). He will lay down his life in witness to Jesus. John will become a bright light shining on a hilltop for the whole world to see.
Remembering and celebrating John’s birth helps us to experience anew the joy of salvation today. He reminds us that there was indeed a long time in the history of the world when we could not turn to Jesus for forgiveness, healing, guidance and strength as we can today. We are so privileged to be Jesus’ disciples. John invites us to be startled at our encounter with Christ, especially as He comes to us so humbly under the guise of a piece of bread. John teaches us to trust that God wants to do great things in our lives; He wants to surprise us with unexpected blessings. John teaches the great value of humility by his burning desire to let Jesus increase in his life while he decreased.
Let me finish with the words of the opening collect for today’s feast: “O God, who raised up St. John the Baptist to make ready a nation fit for Christ the Lord, give your people, we pray, the grace of spiritual joys and direct the hearts of all the faithful into the way of salvation and peace … .”