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The birth of John

Gospel Reading: Lk 1:57-66, 80
When the time arrived for Elizabeth to have her child she gave birth to a son. Her neighbors and relatives heard that the Lord had shown his great mercy toward her, and they rejoiced with her. When they came on the eighth day to circumcise the child, they were going to call him Zechariah after his father, but his mother said in reply, “No. He will be called John.” But they answered her, “There is no one among your relatives who has this name.” So they made signs, asking his father what he wished him to be called. He asked for a tablet and wrote, “John is his name,” and all were amazed. Immediately his mouth was opened, his tongue freed, and he spoke blessing God. Then fear came upon all their neighbors, and all these matters were discussed throughout the hill country of Judea. All who heard these things took them to heart, saying, “What, then, will this child be?” For surely the hand of the Lord was with him.

The child grew and became strong in spirit, and he was in the desert until the day of his manifestation to Israel.

In a style called diptych or narratives in “two frames,” Luke narrates the conception and birth both of John the Baptist and of Jesus. The parallelism also serves to bring out that Jesus is the greater one. Although wondrous signs accompany the conception and birth of John, he is not the Awaited One, the Messiah of God. Rather, he is a prophet who prepares the way of the Lord, as his father Zechariah prophesies (cf v 76). The name John or Yohanan means “God favors” and this is seen in the neighbors and relatives acknowledging the great mercy given to Elizabeth (and Zechariah), and they rejoice with her (cf Lk 1:14, 58).

As the son of a priest, John is supposed to be trained in the Temple services. Instead, he grows up in the desert, far from the luxury in which the Jerusalem priestly aristocracy lives. By his attire, diet, and preaching, John presents himself more like a prophet than a priest. John wears clothing made of camel’s hair and a leather belt around his waist. This garb makes him resemble the prophet Elijah the Tishbite who was described to King Ahaziah as wearing “a hairy garment with a leather belt around his waist” (2 Kgs 1:8). He is thus presented not as a prophet in general; he is the “new Elijah” who will call for reconciliation before the advent of the Lord.

Like Zechariah and Elizabeth, do you experience God’s “graciousness”? In what way?

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