John the Baptist is a great figure. His birth around six months before the birth of Jesus is worthy of celebration. John is an enigmatic figure – yet worthy of honour. He is a wild man with a deep passion for the way of God and a desire to see the kingdom of God break into the lives of his people. Today we first look at the example of his parents. Luke described them earlier as righteous followers of the Lord. They kept without blame the ordinances and commandments of the Lord.
Zechariah and Elizabeth have grown old without any children. Yet they remain faithful followers. Finally they receive the good news that God will give them a son. They are to call him “Yehohanan (John)”, a name that means “gift of Yahweh” or “God is gracious”. The name John captures the powerful reality of their lives before God.
As the new child grew, they would have shared their experience of God’s call and God’s love. John would have read and known the scriptures. Zechariah knows the promises of God across the history of the chosen people. We see this in the prayer that he sings, which we call the Benedictus (Luke 1:67-79).
Zechariah and Elizabeth are both old when he is born. After their death John was free to go into the Judean desert. Probably he spent some time living with the Essene community at Qumran near the Dead Sea. Certainly he knew that even though the people of God had many centuries before returned from Exile, they were not faithful to the covenant. They needed to start again. So he takes people out into the wilderness so that they can remember God’s call upon their lives. By walking through the waters of the Jordan, they can reboot their lives and claim once again the land of the promise. They can be set free from sin and return to the way of the Lord.
Nativity of St John the Baptist (24 June)