The Birth of John the Baptist

The Birth of John the Baptist

In order to fully understand our gospel reading today, we have to skip back a few pages in our bibles and read what happened earlier on to cause such a stir over the naming of a baby called John.

Rather like looking too closely at a picture, we have to step back a little so that we can take it all in.

We are told that as the baby's father, Zechariah writes down the baby's name his tongue is loosed and he can speak again. So how did he lose his power of speech?

Zechariah was not one of the priestly aristocracy who were part of the hierarchy of the temple, but an ordinary priest, a very small fish swimming in a vast ocean of clans or groups of priests, whose job it was to serve in the temple at Jerusalem and officiate there for one week from Sabbath to Sabbath.

Each member of each division of priests would draw lots to see who would enter the temple at the time of morning and evening sacrifice in order to offer incense.

There were so many of these 'ordinary priests' that an individual could only perform this particular duty perhaps once in his lifetime.

It happened to be Zechariah's turn to serve in the temple when the angel Gabriel appeared to him.

He was gripped with fear as the angel told him that his wife would bear a son, who would be filled with the Holy Spirit from birth. The child would be one who would make ready the path for the Messiah who was to come, and he would turn people away from their sins. His name was to be called John.

This is the baby we read about in this morning's gospel.

Did Zechariah respond with joy, and with longing?

Did he welcome the privilege of being called to serve God in this way?

Did he say 'Yes Lord , by all means, let it be as you have said'?

No he didn't.

Here he was probably overawed to start with, having been allowed to enter into holiest place in the temple, but he was probably expecting a nice comfortable shift of duty to a silent rather passive God, a God whose miracles and supernatural acts were well recorded in the holy scrolls, but who had not made himself known for a long time.

And he was gobsmacked, at what the angel told him, he was terrified, stunned, never dreaming that God would act in his day!

Instead of the obedience one might expect of a priest of God he questioned the angel.

'How can I be sure' he asked. 'I am old and my wife is well on in years.'

As a priest he would have been aware of other godly women in past history such as Sarah, Rebekah, Rachel and Hannah who had also been barren, just like Elizabeth his wife, but whose wombs had been opened to produce children when they had thought it impossible.

Why then did he find it so hard to believe that God could do this for him and his wife?

It is at this point that he is struck dumb, probably deaf too, as we read that not only did he have to make signs to others, the people had to make signs to him too.

What was the most marvellous revelation, the greatest privilege, the most wonderful offer, was in Zechariah's mind a massive shock to him, a giant mountain of faith for him to climb.

He saw only difficulty in God's OPPORTUNITY.

When Zechariah emerged from the temple it was clear to those who looked on, that God had done something in his life. By the time the child came to be born, the people who observed and their neighbours were filled with awe, and wondered in their hearts what kind of child this would be.

The world watches on, too, as we cope with our 'mountains' and with our difficulties.

But the question for us today is- do those who watch on, see God in us, by the way we handle the difficult situations we face day by day?

Our experiences may not be as spectacular as Zechariah's vision in the temple-although who knows what is still to come in God's purposes? But we believe in a living God who still speaks to people today!

But whatever our experiences the world immediately around us, DOES watch on, whether we like it or not.

Others may not agree with our beliefs, but they do watch and they do take note, to see if our lives reflect what we say we believe.

And when our faith does NOT match up and ring true in their eyes, we may find that our lack of trust has caused them to become deaf to God's voice and dumb, unable to sing God's praises.

They say a pessimist sees a difficulty in every opportunity, and an optimist sees an opportunity in every difficulty.

Which one are we? And how do we cope if we are by nature fairly apprehensive and negative people with Zechariah’s mentality?

I ask this because I'm one of them; there's not a better example for miles around!

I don't know how may of you watch the TV comedy programme, 'Friends'? The other night one of the main characters became a bridegroom and got cold feet, and was found hiding in his office by his friends. He saw the step into marriage as too great a step to take, too big a mountain to climb, he could see only the difficulties and not the most marvellous opportunity and investment opening up to him.

His friends helped him to solve his problems and allay his fears by encouraging him to take one small step at a time. .. to have a shower first.. to put on his suit.. to take some fresh air… He eventually makes it to the altar.

Now I'm not trying to put ideas into Gary (or Deborah's) head who get married to each other here in a few weeks time, but one of the ways of trust and obedience to God IS

· to take one step at a time, one day at a time and try not to be too afraid and anxious.

· to be open and truthful, with God in prayer, and not doubt his power to act in our time.

· to be still, to be dumb before God, to listen and to be patient, and watch his hand at work in our lives and in our situation.

'Only then will the mountains and the hills break forth before us and burst into song,' as the prophet Isaiah says, 'and the trees of the fields will clap their hands.' This analogy is also echoed in the Isaiah reading today, that the mountains and hills would be made low, and a highway made for God, so that his glory would be revealed in our midst.

Rather like those who looked on as Zechariah and Elisabeth's son John was named, we too will know a time of rejoicing at the fulfilling of God's promises to us to be with us in every situation till the end of time.