Now the time came for Elizabeth to give birth, and she bore a son. Her neighbours and relatives heard that the Lord had shown his great mercy to her, and they rejoiced with her. On the eighth day they came to circumcise the child, and they were going to name him Zechariah after his father. But his mother said, “No; he is to be called John.” They said to her, “None of your relatives has this name.” Then they began motioning to his father to find out what name he wanted to give him. He asked for a writing tablet and wrote, “His name is John.” And all of them were amazed. Immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue freed, and he began to speak, praising God. Fear came over all their neighbours, and all these things were talked about throughout the entire hill country of Judea. All who heard them pondered them and said, “What then will this child become?” For, indeed, the hand of the Lord was with him. Then his father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke this prophecy: “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has looked favourably on his people and redeemed them. He has raised up a mighty saviour for us in the house of his servant David, as he spoke through the mouth of his holy prophets from of old, that we would be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us. Thus he has shown the mercy promised to our ancestors, and has remembered his holy covenant, the oath that he swore to our ancestor Abraham, to grant us that we, being rescued from the hands of our enemies, might serve him without fear, in holiness and righteousness before him all our days. And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways, to give knowledge of salvation to his people by the forgiveness of their sins. By the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high will break upon us, to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.” The child grew and became strong in spirit, and he was in the wilderness until the day he appeared publicly to Israel.
LUKE 1:57-80 (also see Isaiah 40:1-11, Psalm 85: 7-13, and Acts 13: 14-26)
For many of us this is our image of John the Baptist. The church dusts him off once a year and trots him out to rain on our Advent/Christmas parade. No one likes to be called a bunch of snakes or told they need to repent. For that reason I’ve never really had much time for John the Baptizer. That is until recently and the Feast of the Nativity of John the Baptist is the perfect time to proclaim my new found love of dear ol’ John.
First of all, pay attention to the language used in today’s readings. They use the images of comfort and reassurance to convey the message for God’s people. The message is that God is doing something; God is taking action to address the plight God’s people. Isaiah is speaking to a people yet in exile admonishing them to not lose heart because God sees their situation and will look after them. The accompanying Psalm too uses pastoral language to reassure its readers of God’s care. Is there any more beautiful turn of phrase in the Bible than, “Mercy and truth have met together; righteousness and peace have kissed each other.” John’s birth is a sign of God’s imminent salvation and liberation, which is good news to all of us.
The second thing that has rekindled my love for John is a new appreciation for his role. John is a pointer. He points to something, someone greater than him: Jesus. Jesus is the fulfillment of God’s plan for the human race. John is a reminder to me, and to all of us that we too are pointers. John reminds me that I am not the savior, the redeemer or the messiah, Jesus is. My job, your job is to point people toward Jesus, because it is there that they will find what they are looking for.
So let’s cut John some slack. Try to see pass the camel chique wardrobe, the insect diet, the unkempt appearance, to exactly what John is pointing at. Jesus is the good news that God is for us and not against us.