24 June 2021
The Nativity of St. John the Baptist
The rabbi was preparing to give the little one the name of his father when Elizabeth interrupted. “No, he shall be called John.” John, which means Yahweh is gracious. The people in the room look at the women in amazement and the rabbi frowns: “None of your relatives is called by that name!” he exclaims. All eyes fix on the old man, Zechariah, still silent, nary a word escaping his lips since his vision in the temple. They make signs to him to ask what he should be named (signs? He’s dumb, not deaf!). He motions for a writing tablet and writes upon it: his name is John.
And then it stopped, as suddenly as it had started. His mouth was opened, his tongue loosed, and he spoke. What did he speak? St. Luke strongly hints at it by saying that he was “blessing God.” That is, the words that we know as the Benedictus. He opens his lips in a canticle of praise to the God of Israel, who has visited and redeemed His people. What is amazing about the canticle is that most of it isn’t about John at all; there’s a bigger miracle in the room!
Zechariah shouts to one and to all that the time of the great fulfillment foretold by the prophets was at hand. The God of Israel had visited His people to rescue them. He was showing mercy, remembering the covenant and oath He swore to Abraham. Now all God’s people would be set free to serve God without fear in holiness and righteousness all the days of their life. And if God was now in the flesh, his beloved little John would be the prophet of the Most High, going before the Lord to prepare His way, the way of Him who came to bring light to those sitting in the shadow of death, guiding feet into the very way of peace. The people marveled and wondered at the astonishing words that they heard.
You may wonder too. For this is what you have been created for: to serve, to worship, to praise God, and to do so without fear because God has come in the flesh to clothe you in a holiness and righteousness that can stand in the presence of the All Holy without trembling, fear or shame. A holiness and righteousness that force death and Satan to back away from you. For your holiness and your righteousness IS the Child who was in Mary’s womb and on Calvary’s tree and is risen from the dead. He has answered for all your sin. He has died the death for you and lives to give salvation too you. Marvel and wonder indeed, people loved by God. He has visited you and shows you great mercy. Open your mouth with Zechariah, and with Mary, and bless His holy name! Amen.