So how many shopping days are there until Christmas? Whatever the specific number of days, John’s birth preceded that of Jesus’ by six months. According to Luke, Elizabeth became pregnant six months before the Angel Gabriel appeared to Mary. It is all so poetically portrayed. This birth figures so prominently in the New Testament witness that the Benedictus, a canticle of praise uttered by John’s father Zechariah after his son’s birth, appears in our worship through the Daily Office. It helps root us in our common history as Jews and Christians.
Scripture clearly indicates that John’s birth was for a purpose. Even his naming caused a minor controversy in the family, indicating that something new was occurring when the name chosen for him dispensed with convention. Elizabeth won that argument as Zechariah came around and with newly found freedom proclaimed the great day of God that was dawning in the blessing of all humanity. John the Baptist was a forerunner so that our feet would be guided into the way of peace.
Have you ever met someone who appeared to be living a life for which they were born? I am thinking of a seminary professor, The Very Reverend Richard Reid, who taught New Testament at Virginia Seminary. I took a class in the Gospel of John from him that was not merely an academic study, which it was, but also a spiritual adventure. It was a significant part of my ongoing and daily conversion to the deeper truths of God in Christ. I recall thinking to myself at one point that this man was born to teach this class. Not to be overly dramatic, but the universe seemed to be aligned and all would be well as I sat right where I was supposed to be at that moment. There was a quality of presence that went much beyond the immediate configuration of teacher and students in a seminary classroom. Something significant of the Spirit was occurring and it was a privilege and gift to be a part of it.
This is something of the quality of John’s ministry as precursor and preparer of the way. God acts in history as we see the drama unfold in Luke’s Gospel. God acts in the history of a classroom. God acts in our history too as our call is really no different than that of John’s. I do not mean to say that everything we do is pre-planned or pre-ordained. What I do mean to say is that each moment of life is filled with the fullness of God’s Spirit working in us, through us and among us – the sacrament of the moment if you will. The focus is on being and becoming a people of wholeness and harmony. This can be costly work since we know John ended up in prison and was eventually executed for proclaiming God’s truth so clearly that he challenged and threatened the reins of power held by Herod Antipas. So have many others, throughout history, found their ministry costly.
Our hope is not in a program, good intentions, trying harder, or even being more spiritual. Our hope is in the One to whom John the Baptist points.