In today’s Gospel reading, we see the remarkable circumstances around the birth of John the Baptist. The relatives do not understand why the baby should be named John, but when Zechariah affirms that John is the name, he is finally able to speak again, and begins to praise God. With all this, the people ask, “What, then, will this child be?” And Luke adds, “For surely the hand of the Lord was with him.”
Children are mentioned in our first reading, too. As Malachi prophesies about the “day of his coming,” he also predicts the coming of Elijah before that day. Elijah is to “turn the hearts of the fathers to their children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers. Lest I come and strike the land with doom.”
As we reflect on the birth of John the Baptist in preparation for celebrating the birth of Jesus, it may be a good time to reflect on all children. For we can say what was said about John: The hand of the Lord is with them. And because of this, we could be asking ourselves, “What, then, will these children be?” Will many of the children be allowed, so to speak, to be the persons God made them to be? What can help “turn the hearts” of us toward them?
I know this is the time of year when there are many attempts to tug at our hearts to support various charities here and throughout the world. And I’m not advocating one charity over another. But somehow we cannot let the inundation of appeals numb us to the plight of others. Can we turn our hearts towards those most vulnerable, both young and old (For Elijah was to also “turn the hearts of the children to their fathers.”)?
To make room for Jesus we need to make room for each other. We are called to work for a time and a place when the question, “What, then, will this child be?” will not be asked out of fear or worry, but out of anticipation and hope.
Fr. Phil Paxton, C.P. is on staff at St. Paul of the Cross Retreat and Conference Center, Detroit, Michigan.