The Birth of John the Baptist

This post originally appeared on June 24, 2011.  It goes with today’s readings so here it is again.  Enjoy.

People in Biblical times looked at things a lot differently than we do today.  Our reading from Luke’s Gospel is a good example.

“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 great mercy toward her, and they rejoiced with her.”

Remember, Elizabeth was no kid.  That was part of the miracle.  The angel told Mary, “behold, Elizabeth, your relative, has also conceived a son in her old age.”  Looking around this church this morning I’d say we’re a pretty mature crowd.  If one of us, or our wife, was to come up pregnant would we think the Lord had shown us “great mercy”?  We might think exactly the opposite.  Would our neighbors and relatives come to rejoice with us?

Luke tells us that  the people asked “What, then, will this child be?”  They had no idea what he would become.  In the continuation of this passage, after he gets his voice back, Zechariah will tell John what he is to become, but no one knows it yet.

I guess you’d say these people’s glass was always half full where, today, we tend to see it more as half empty.  When God called on them, they usually said yes, even when they didn’t know what they were saying “yes” to.

It’s the same thing with John’s name.  The angel had told Zechariah what to call the child.  “Call him John.”  The relatives and neighbors objected.  Babies were given family names.  It was unheard of to give a child, especially a son, a different name.  But Elizabeth insisted that he be called John and Zechariah confirmed it, writing on a tablet “John is his name.”  It’s a good thing he did because that’s when he got his voice back.

Family names aren’t so important today.  In fact a lot of parents seem to go out of their way to hang strange monikers on their poor, innocent children.  But how many couples would give their kid a name because an angel told them to?  Probably not many.

Here’s the thing.  People in Jesus’ time were open to the will of the Father.  They put God first and themselves second.  That’s not so common today.  Separated from them by 2,000 years and half a world away, I think it’s hard for us sometimes to understand just how obedient those people were and how much we come up short.

Some might say that God has never asked them to do anything.  They would be wrong.  God speaks to us in any number of ways including through the Scriptures and through signs.  The problem is that most of us don’t take the time to listen.  We need to be open to the Father’s word and to listen for it.

Nativity of John the Baptist

People in Biblical times looked at things a lot differently than we do today.  Our reading from Luke’s Gospel is a good example.

“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 great mercy toward her, and they rejoiced with her.”

 

Remember, Elizabeth was no kid.  That was part of the miracle.  The angel told Mary, “behold, Elizabeth, your relative, has also conceived a son in her old age.”  Looking around this church this morning I’d say we’re a pretty mature crowd.  If one of us, or our wife, was to come up pregnant would we think the Lord had shown us “great mercy”?  We might think exactly the opposite.  Would our neighbors and relatives come to rejoice with us?

 

Luke tells us that  the people asked “What, then, will this child be?”  They had no idea what he would become.  In the continuation of this passage, after he gets his voice back, Zechariah will tell John what he is to become, but no one knows it yet.

 

I guess you’d say these people’s glass was always half full where, today, we tend to see it more as half empty.  When God called on them, they usually said yes, even when they didn’t know what they were saying “yes” to.

 

It’s the same thing with John’s name.  The angel had told Zechariah what to call the child.  “Call him John.”  The relatives and neighbors objected.  Babies were given family names.  It was unheard of to give a child, especially a son, a different name.  But Elizabeth insisted that he be called John and Zechariah confirmed it, writing on a tablet “John is his name.”  It’s a good thing he did because that’s when he got his voice back.

 

Family names aren’t so important today.  In fact a lot of parents seem to go out of their way to hang strange monikers on their poor, innocent children.  But how many couples would give their kid a name because an angel told them to?  Probably not many.

 

Here’s the thing.  People in Jesus’ time were open to the will of the Father.  They put God first and themselves second.  That’s not so common today.  Separated from them by 2,000 years and half a world away, I think it’s hard for us sometimes to understand just how obedient those people were and how much we come up short.

 

Some might say that God has never asked them to do anything.  They would be wrong.  God speaks to us in any number of ways including through the Scriptures and through signs.  The problem is that most of us don’t take the time to listen.  We need to be open to the Father’s word and to listen for it.

The Fourth Wednesday of Advent

In today’s Gospel we read of the birth of John the Baptist.  Isn’t it odd that when Elizabeth’s neighbors and relatives gathered on the eighth day for the baby’s circumcision that they had already chosen a name for him?  My wife and I have four kids and we didn’t let our neighbors and relatives pick a single name.  I doubt if you did either.

Even when Elizabeth told them that the baby’s name would be John, they still argued with her.  “There is no one among your relatives who has this name.” So, they asked Zechariah what he thought.  Remember that he was struck dumb when he questioned the angel’s words that Elizabeth was going to be a mother in her old age.  So he took a tablet and wrote “John is his name,” and “all were amazed.”

This elderly woman has had a baby, her husband has had his voice taken away,  and the relatives and neighbors are amazed that they’ve chosen to name the baby John?  That seems to me to be the most normal thing that’s happened around there for a while.

But don’t we all know someone like that?  They overlook the main thing to focus on the small stuff.  You know, the ones who rearrange the deck chairs on the Titanic.

But then, the most amazing thing of all.  Zechariah gets his voice back.  Now the neighbors are afraid. The events are discussed “throughout the hill country of Judea.  All who heard these things took them to heart, saying, ‘What, then, will this child be?'”

Well, we know the answer to the question.  John will go before the Lord to prepare His way.  Everyone of us is a little bit John.  Our calling is to prepare the Lord’s way, too.

Tomorrow is Christmas Eve.  As we wind up the Advent season, hopefully  we can look back and  see that we’re just a little bit more ready than we were four weeks ago.  If so, then our Advent has been a success.

The Second Sunday of Advent

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In Luke’s Gospel today we’re introduced to the adult John the Baptist. Luke quotes the words of the prophet Isaiah:

A voice of one crying out in the desert:
“Prepare the way of the Lord,
make straight his paths.
Every valley shall be filled
and every mountain and hill shall be made low.
The winding roads shall be made straight,
and the rough ways made smooth,
and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.”

Of course we’ve already learned of John’s mission earlier in Luke’s Gospel (Lk 1-68-79) in the words that John’s father, Zechariah, spoke to him just after his birth.  Remember that Zechariah had been struck mute when he questioned the angel’s announcement that his wife Elizabeth would give birth in her old age.   When he recovered his speech he spoke these words to his son:

“You, my child, shall be called the prophet of the Most High, for you will go before the Lord to prepare His way, to give his people knowledge of salvation by the forgiveness of their sins.”

As we begin this second week of Advent it’s good to remember that we’re also called to go before the Lord to prepare His way.  Our purpose in this life isn’t just to prepare ourselves for eternal life, but to help others gain eternal life as well.  We live our faith by sharing it with others by our words and by our actions.