When I was young, all grade school kids had to attend the nine a.m. Sunday mass. The best part of going, was arriving early and playing games of chasing around, hide-and-seek; kind of preparing for the Eucharist. At eight fifty-five, fun ended and silently, reluctantly we headed for our assigned pews. Well we were there any way.
There is much chasing around during our journeys of our days and weeks. As God was watching over us during our pre-mass warm-ups (and so were the Dominican Sisters) God is doing more than watching.
We can prepare - warm up - for the celebration of the Eucharist by stopping to look and listen for signs and words of life and love. We bring our selves to celebrate the whole story of God’s laboring for the well-being of those same selves. We pray with what brings us to our knees in joy, or sorrow, delight or pain.
Today is known as “Little Christmas”. It is the birth of the sixth-month older cousin of Jesus. There were some who believed John to be the Christ, but the Gospels make it quite clear that his destiny was to be the forerunner and baptizer of the Christ.
There is nothing known or written about any friendship they enjoyed after their womb-to-womb meeting during Mary’s visitation to John’s mother, Elizabeth. John is pictured as having a light to shine toward and upon Jesus, but as the Evangelist John writes in his first chapter, “He was not the light, but came to bear witness to the light.” John 1, 8
We hear the prophet Isaiah speak of a “servant” of God in our First Reading today. The “servant” could have been a person or the nation Israel. From the beginning God called, fashioned and offered this “servant” an important place in extending the glory and kingship of God. The “servant” hears that he is not to toil merely for the restoration and union of Israel, but to open the way for the light to the “nations” that is beyond the borders of God’s chosen people. Salvation is going to come to all the world and this “servant” is going to toil for the coming of that salvation.
Notice in today’s Second Reading, a little historical review about how God has been preparing for the light of Jesus. Here too John is saying of himself that He is not the Christ. Again, this was a large controversy in the early days after the Resurrection.
The Gospel has to do with the birth of John, but even more, his naming. Elizabeth and Zechariah are advanced in age and so the lack of fertility was seen to be a kind of curse. She is found to be pregnant and when her time for deliverance arrives he is born. All come to marvel and give God praise. The neighbors are from the hill country of Judea. They expect his naming at the circumcision to follow custom. His father, in the previous verses, is struck speechless by God for his questioning.
His mother announces his name to be John and his father is given a tablet and writes the same. Upon this writing, his speech returns giving thanks and praise to God. After the naming, John grows up and is the man in waiting for God’s time to be fulfilled.
Luke deliberately makes strong parallels between the births of John and Jesus. Being barren and being a virgin allows for a divine intervention. Gabriel appears to Zechariah announcing the “good news” of his being given a son. The annunciation to Mary of her having a son is presented by an angel and both are accompanied by prophetic words about their names and their missions. Both Mary and Zechariah have the same questions about how this was going to be since advanced age and Mary’s not being wedded would prevent conception. Mary is given comfort and a kind of proof by her hearing that Elizabeth is with child for now six months and Mary can visit her and see for herself. Zechariah leaves his holy duties in the temple without the power to speak.
Names are given and all the people returned home. The neighbors leave here and the shepherds in Bethlehem, praising, marveling, and wondering at what they have seen and heard. Both Mary and Zechariah are presented as singing out in similar words a blessing to God for all that He has done for Israel and for all the nations.
John is born to be the front-runner, the advance-publicity man for the coming on stage of Jesus. We are the co-runners who have been radiated by His Light and extend that Light to the ends of our neighborhoods, the end of our abilities, and to the end of our time. Zechariah, Elizabeth, Joseph and Mary were all mighty little in their times, but all were born with their little-to-do mighty things in their time, for all time. We are “servants” whom the Lord has known before we were born and in our life’s time we give birth to Him according to our individual personalities and history. John was born to make known the coming of Jesus. We are born for the remembering of His life, death, and Resurrection. We are born to announce that He lives and gives new birth and life to all the nations.
“Through the tender compassion of our God, the dawn from on high shall break upon us.” Lk. 1, 78
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