In our Gospel reading, as we near the holy day of Christmas, we hear about the birth of John the Baptist. Just as it is with the birth of Jesus, the birth of John the Baptist was associated with remarkable events: The appearance of the angel Gabriel to Zechariah, who was made mute after having doubts that he and Elizabeth could have a child; the fact that Elizabeth had conceived in her old age, even though she was considered barren; the fact that when John was to be named, when Zechariah affirmed Elizabeth’s statement that he was to be named John, at that moment he was able to speak and gave praises to God. All these things told the people who knew Zechariah and Elizabeth that something special was planned for this baby: “What, then, will this child be?”
What spoke to me was the commotion around naming the baby John. The other people who were at the circumcision were ready to name him Zechariah after his father, but Elizabeth told them that he would be named John. They pointed out to her that there was no relative with that name. That’s when they asked Zechariah about it, and since he couldn’t speak, he wrote on a tablet, “John is his name.”
The name “John” was a break from the past, and this might have been an indication of what John would be called to do. John was a continuation of all the prophets who foretold that the Messiah would come. But at the same time, he was the one who was preparing the people for the Messiah’s actual coming.
Like John, we have been called by name. Like John, we are called to point people towards Jesus. There might not have been extraordinary events surrounding our birth, but what Luke wrote about John is true for us: “For surely the hand of the Lord was with him.” Surely the hand of the Lord is with us. May we accept our call and herald the reality of God’s love in Jesus Christ, on the holy day of Christmas and throughout our lives.
Fr. Phil Paxton, C.P., is the local superior of the Passionist Community in Birmingham, Alabama.