June 24, 2015
by Eileen Burke-Sullivan
Creighton University's Mission and Ministry
click here for photo and information about the writer

Solemnity of the Nativity of Saint John the Baptist-Vigil
Lectionary: 586

Isaiah 49:1-6
Psalm 139:1b-3, 13-14ab, 14c-15
Acts 13:22-2
Luke 1:57-66, 80

Praying Ordinary Time

 “The LORD called me from birth, from my mother’s womb he gave me my name.” Isaiah 49

The birth of a new baby brings family and friends together to congratulate the new parents and to rejoice in the hope that birth brings to families and friends alike.  In Elizabeth and Zachariah’s case the delight was exponentially greater because Elizabeth was apparently too old to have a child.
“Truly you have formed my inmost being; you knit me in my mother’s womb.”  Ps 139

Though this husband and wife were utterly loyal to God, it seemed to their community that God was punishing them with childlessness for something, even as Zachariah grew old in his priestly service at the temple.  Then suddenly, God’s time came to pass, and God sent a messenger to Zachariah to tell him that Elizabeth had conceived and would bear a son who was to be named John – meaning “praise the LORD (Yahweh).”  But Zachariah was too stunned and disbelieving to praise God so his voice was silenced and he couldn’t say anything

“When the time arrived for Elizabeth to have her child she gave birth to a son . . . the Lord had shown his great mercy . . .”  Luke 1

Nine months later – after a three month visit from her young cousin Mary – also extraordinarily pregnant  - Elizabeth, in her old age delivers a son whom, she announces, is to be named “praise the Lord”  (She understood the implications!)  The family and friends are thrilled but unhappy with the name – “that’s not a family name in our family!” (Makes you wonder if those relatives knew how to praise God, doesn’t it?)  And, of course, in a patriarchal culture said “ask the father – he should make this decision.”  (Don’t you bet some of these were Zachariah’s priestly family?).  So the elderly priest gestured for a tablet and wrote the name (Praise God!) of John.  Then he found his voice!  Once he knew how to praise God he could speak, and did he ever! “Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel, who has come to his people and set them free!” 

So . . .  delighted, confused, perhaps a bit miffed, the relatives presumably offer their best wishes and went about breaking the news to the neighborhood that something very amazing was happening in Zachariah and Elizabeth’s house.   

I will make you a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth. Isaiah 49

It is a funny story in many ways, (another example of God’s sense of humor) and one that is easy to imagine, but certainly it has a serious side.  John has been called by God in Elizabeth’s womb, conceived in the natural way but in God’s time.  John has a particular role to play in God’s great plan of salvation, “hidden from generations past and now made known in Christ Jesus” (Col. 1).    John’s role was to praise God, as his name implies, by announcing this Gospel of salvation; by calling upon all peoples (a light to the nations) to recognize that the hour of liberation was upon us and we have to change their lives from sin to obedience.  He witnessed to this Gospel all up and down Israel with preaching and baptizing (using a ritual of new birth).  Finally he gave his life by telling the truth to power when he challenged Herod Antipas to give up his sinful ways.

“To those others among you who are God-fearing,to us this word of salvation has been sent.” Acts 13

Today is a great birthday.  It is not only the day the Church marks the birth of John the Baptist, it is the day that we mark the birth of God’s plan in history.  The Prophet of the Messiah has come and while the light of the sun in the northern hemisphere begins to diminish, John prepares the new fires to be lighted on the hilltops and in the valleys – the new light of Emmanuel, God with us, who will be born again in our hearts six months from now.  So to all you Johns, Joans, Rashawns, Seans, Jeanettes and Janets, Ivans and Siobhans - Happy Feast, and PRAISE GOD! 

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