The Birth of John the Baptist

When we first encounter Zechariah he is silenced by Gabriel for his doubt of God. Dr. Edward Sri, The Augustine Institute, explains that after the birth of John the Baptist he, “Zechariah finally gets a second chance. Nine months ago he doubted the angel’s message to him in the temple. He simply could not believe that his barren wife would conceive and bear a child in her old age. Muted, Zechariah has had nine months to ponder Gabriel’s message over and over in his mind and humbly reconsider his own disbelief. Now he has witnessed Gabriel’s words come to fulfillment through his wife’s pregnancy. The opportunity for a second chance arises on the eighth day of the child’s life, when it is time to circumcise and name him.”[1]

After the birth of John, Zechariah witnessed all that had come true with the miracle of his son’s conception and birth. Among his wife Elizabeth’s kin, a great debate stirred among them over the naming of the child. The tradition of naming the child after the father was carrying precedent with the family; however, Elizabeth insisted on the name of John, as Sri points out, “What is interesting for us as readers is that we know John is the name Gabriel instructed Zechariah to give to the child (see 1:13), yet Elizabeth seems to arrive at the same conclusion on her own—independent of any angelic revelation or conversation with her husband, who has been mute for the last nine months.”[2]

 The importance of this event is illustrated by Zachariah’s spoken revelation of the child’s name is John, as all were aware of him being rendered a mute after his duties as a priest in the Holy of Holies. By this divine revelation through Zechariah, Sri writes, “Those present sense God’s hand in these events. In awe, they recognize that they are caught up in something much larger than the circumcision and naming of this child. God must have some special purpose for the newborn. Fear of the Lord comes upon them, and they wonder, “What then will this child be?”[3]

 At this point, Zechariah able to speak again gives a great Benedictus, a canticle of reflection of the events that have transpired:

67 And his father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit, and prophesied, saying,

68 “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel,

for he has visited and redeemed his people,

69 and has raised up a horn of salvation‡ for us

in the house of his servant David,

70 as he spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets from of old,

71 that we should be saved from our enemies,

and from the hand of all who hate us;

72 to perform the mercy promised to our fathers,

and to remember his holy covenant,

73 the oath which he swore to our father Abraham, 74 to grant us

that we, being delivered from the hand of our enemies,

might serve him without fear,

75 in holiness and righteousness before him all the days of our life.

76  And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High;

for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways,

77  to give knowledge of salvation to his people

in the forgiveness of their sins,

78  through the tender mercy of our God,

when the day shall dawn upon us from on high

79  to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,

to guide our feet into the way of peace.”

80  And the child grew and became strong in spirit, and he was in the wilderness till the day of his manifestation to Israel. [4]

 The Canticle is read as a reminder of our universal call within the Body of Christ in the common priesthood of the Church. What does it mean to be a member of the common priesthood in the Body of Christ and What does it mean to “go before the Lord to prepare his ways?”

The Canticle is said every morning in the Liturgy of the hours, Christian Prayer, and Shorter Christian Prayer, which all utilize the ancient prayer of the Psalter. Of Course, in our own lives, what does this mean for us? During the Vatican II council and after, as examined in the Catechism, there has been a focus on the common priesthood of the Body of Christ:

CCC 1141 The celebrating assembly is the community of the baptized who, “by regeneration and the anointing of the Holy Spirit, are consecrated to be a spiritual house and a holy priesthood, that through all the works of Christian men they may offer spiritual sacrifices.” This “common priesthood” is that of Christ the sole priest, in which all his members participate:10 (1120; 1268)

Mother Church earnestly desires that all the faithful should be led to that full, conscious, and active participation in liturgical celebrations which is demanded by the very nature of the liturgy, and to which the Christian people, “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a redeemed people,” have a right and an obligation by reason of their Baptism.[5]

In many respects, a priest is a minister of sacraments, although the laity is not ordained and consecrated there is a sacramental nature of salvation through helping humanity. The Hesburgh Professor of Catholic Theology at the University of Notre Dame, Gary A. Anderson writes a great deal on the sacramental nature of Charity:

“one often misses the crucial variable that drove much of Christian history for its first fifteen hundred years: the promise that scripture provides that one could meet God in the face of the poor. Charity was, to put it briefly, a sacramental act.[6]

“Early in the development of the church, the giving of alms was linked to the celebration of the Eucharist. The connection is easy to understand; both acts celebrated a display of mercy. In the Eucharist, one re-presents the love Christ showed the world by the self-offering of his life. In almsgiving, the layperson has the opportunity to participate in this divine act by imitating that mercy in his or her daily actions. It is not accidental that the Eucharist and almsgiving were the two privileged means of channeling grace and dealing with the baneful effects of human sin.”[7]

“the poor were thought to be, unarguably, the central portal to the wealth of God’s kingdom. One should not undervalue the literal sense of Matthew 25:31–46 for the early church.”[8]

Christ reminds us of how will be judged on our mission in the Judgment of All Nations in Matthew 25:

34  Then the King will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, O blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; 35  for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36 I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’[9]

Before Jesus was born, Israel was in its first Advent learning “to go before the Lord to prepare His way.” The common priesthood is linked with a universal call to do the same because God’s salvific plan is also linked with His second coming in this new Advent of this new Jerusalem—the Church.

Let us pray to God for the Grace to do what is needed to prepare for our King—Maranatha.

[1] Edward Sri, Dawn of the Messiah: The Coming of Christ in Scripture (Cincinnati: St. Anthony Messenger Press, 2005), 57.

[2] Ibid, 58.

[3] Ibid, 59.

[4] RSV Lk 1:67–80.

[5] Catholic Church, Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2nd Ed. (Washington, DC: United States Catholic Conference, 2000), 295–296.

[6] Gary A. Anderson, Charity (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2013), 7.

[7] Ibid, 8.

[8] Ibid, 11.

[9] RSV Mt 25:34–36.

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