Today we celebrate the birth of John the Baptist. It is a day of great joy throughout all the Church. In Peru, John the Baptist is the patron saint in the jungle areas and until recently this feast was a national holiday, and it is still the national day of the common rural farmer or worker. This day is the beginning of the joy of the Christmas event. John is the precursor to the Savior.
The story of John’s birth is very interesting and inspiring as a Word of God for us. John’s father, Zechariah, is a temple priest. While he is in the temple, an angel comes to tell Zechariah that he will shortly have a son who will have an important place in God’s plan of salvation. Zechariah can only laugh at the angle’s announcement. This is not a laugh of joy or relief, but rather disbelief. As a consequence, Zechariah is unable to speak from that moment until his son’s presentation in the temple which we celebrate today.
Over those nine months, Zechariah has time to think, pray, reflect, and contemplate on God’s action and presence in his life. He watches as the child grows in his wife’s womb and is eventually born. He sees the fulfillment of the angel’s word in his own life. He comes to have a deeper faith in the Word of God announced by the angel that his son will have an important role in the story of salvation.
Tradition, at that time, was to give the first-born son the same name as the father or that of another member of the family. But with this child God wants to do something new – therefore a new name is required, just as announced by the angel. Zechariah now sees the action of God in his life and is able to surrender his personal will and plans for the child. Rather than continue in the tradition and his own will (which produced silence and an inability to speak), Zechariah starts something new with God. Zechariah sees a living God acting in his life and the life of Israel – not just a God of rituals, but a God who speaks and acts in his life. He names the child John. Then he bursts into a song of praise proclaiming how God has come to fulfill all his promises to Israel. If I had been left unable to speak for nine months, perhaps at recovering my ability to speak, my first words would have been a complaint or a negation of God. The child John is named in the midst of his father’s song of praise, joy, and gratitude.
John is the precursor to the savior. His birth and mission are motive for great joy today. John calls us to a new relationship with God to be able to receive the Savior. We are called to have the deeper faith of Zechariah, to abandon our doubt, to abandon our silence and to proclaim and live our faith. John the Baptist openly preached his own faith and made it possible for people to be open to the Savior’s message and presence. Our personal lives and our life as a faith community (local church) must point to the Savior and direct others on how to know and get to the Savior.