|Solemnity of the Birth of Saint
John the Baptist
Psalms 139:1-3, 13-14, 14-15
Luke 1:57-66, 80
“Little Christmas” is the birth of the Great Preparer. There are six months of Christmas shopping left so we better be getting to it.
Isaiah speaks today of a servant of God who is sent to be and do great things for the people of Israel and then, that not being enough, a light to all the nations. He knows himself to be from and for God even from the womb, and rejoices in being hidden and made ready for the tasks of his life.
This servant receives his name from the Lord. In biblical times, whoever named something had power over it. The servant of the Lord finds strength in the power which God has over him and he does not grumble or resist such domination.
The Gospel pictures Zechariah, the husband of Elizabeth, as not so much giving their child its name, but relating the name that God gives which is “John,” a name which means, “The Lord is gracious.” So neither the tradition of handing on the father’s name, nor the tradition of having the father dominating his son continues. God claims John as a person to extend the graciousness of God.
We do not hear in today’s Gospel about how the annunciation of John’s conception took place which leads to the muteness of Zechariah. He was a priest of the holy temple in Jerusalem and took his turn tending the incense within the great and holy sanctuary. While there the angel Gabriel appeared and announced the pregnancy of his wife and how great this expected child would be before God and all people. Zechariah simply wanted a little proof or something to hold on to. For his troubling doubts he was struck dumb until the scene which we hear today. He was not to have dominion or power over his son and his silence, or impotence, manifests God’s authority.
There is not real urgency about shopping-days today. There is an urgency about the life of John the Baptist though. There is always a sense in John the Baptist that Israel and all human life should be getting ready for, for, for what!
Zechariah and Elizabeth had longed for the blessing of a child. As they grew older, their longing must have resolved into a relationship with God which centered around what they had done wrong.
John is born to baptize the world’s longing for a sense that it was not wrong. John’s urgency is his own longing for all to be right and righteous. His birth signals the re-righting of God’s people. We begin to be born as right with God as John begins his life.
As I am writing, our community dog keeps painting my leg with its moist nose in some kind of search that she is okay with me. I pet her bobbing head which seems to satisfy her longing, but just for a little while. I think she makes the rounds of our rooms in the unbaptized hunger for canine completion.
What we long for in our searching is our true name and to live peacefully under the domination of the One Who gives us ourselves. John received his name from God and our baptismal names form the beginning of our rebirth, our re-righting with God as Lord. As with our dog, we too go searching to various places and persons to find out if we have some other names with which we can find peace and comfort ourselves. John called out to his listeners to come back from foreign searchings and find their home with God as gentle Lord. Is this an urgent call for us? It is as urgent as our awareness of how deeply we long and to what lengths we have and will go to find our names. Perhaps true repentance is the returning from false names and empty barren hungerings for unbaptismal names. Our “Little Christmas” is the celebration of our returning to the loving embrace of the One Who dominates us with gentle compassion.
“Through the tender compassion of our God, the dawn from on high shall break upon us.”
Collaborative Ministry Office Guestbook