Friday, December 22, 2017

A child is born 22: John the Baptist is born

The angel said: “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you will name him John”

There are only two accounts of births in the New Testament, of which this is the first. The angel Gabriel appears to the elderly priest, Zechariah, as he offers incense in the sanctuary of the Temple. The angel tells him that his equally elderly wife, Elizabeth, will bear a child who will be the forerunner of the Messiah. Like Samson and Samuel (Dec 16 & 17), he will be set aside from birth as a ‘nazirite’ (v.15). He will not drink, and will be filled with the Spirit of God.  Zechariah cannot believe this news, and is rendered speechless by Gabriel until the birth. Elizabeth conceives, however, just as the angel promised, and joyfully proclaims that “the Lord has …looked favourably on me and [taken] away the disgrace I have endured among my people.”

When the child is born, much to his relatives' surprise Elizabeth insists that his name will be John, not Zechariah, after his father, and Zechariah’s speech is restored when he confirms this by writing it on a tablet. He sings a song (traditionally known as the Benedictus), which celebrates this child who will “give knowledge of salvation to his people by the forgiveness of their sins,” and “light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death.”

We know, though Zechariah and Elizabeth do not, that John will end up being executed by King Herod, beheaded on the whim of his step-daughter, Salome. Zechariah and Elizabeth rejoice at his birth - he is another of the long-awaited miracle babies of Scripture. He brings them joy now, but the task he has been born for will cost him everything.

·         We don’t know whether John’s parents were still alive when he started his ministry in the desert, or when he was killed . If they were, what do you think they might have felt?

·         Are there any stories in your family of people who did unusual, brave or risky things?

·         Pray for parents whose children are aid workers or put themselves in risky positions for the sake of others. 

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