John The Baptist - Luke 1:57-80
Now the time came for Elizabeth to give birth, and she bore a son. Her neighbours and relatives heard that the Lord had shown his great mercy to her, and they rejoiced with her. On the eighth day they came to circumcise the child, and they were going to name him Zechariah after his father. But his mother said, "No; he is to be called John." They said to her, "None of your relatives has this name." Then they began motioning to his father to find out what name he wanted to give him. He asked for a writing tablet and wrote, "His name is John." And all of them were amazed. Immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue freed, and he began to speak, praising God. Fear came over all their neighbours, and all these things were talked about throughout the entire hill country of Judea. All who heard them pondered them and said, "What then will this child become?" For, indeed, the hand of the Lord was with him. Then his father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke this prophecy: "Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has looked favourably on his people and redeemed them. He has raised up a mighty saviour for us in the house of his servant David, as he spoke through the mouth of his holy prophets from of old, that we would be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us. Thus he has shown the mercy promised to our ancestors, and has remembered his holy covenant, the oath that he swore to our ancestor Abraham, to grant us that we, being rescued from the hands of our enemies, might serve him without fear, in holiness and righteousness before him all our days. And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways, to give knowledge of salvation to his people by the forgiveness of their sins. By the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high will break upon us, to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace." The child grew and became strong in spirit, and he was in the wilderness until the day he appeared publicly to Israel.
Zechariah was a Temple priest who belonged to the division of Abijah, the eighth of twenty-four divisions of priests who carried out, in turn, the daily service of the Temple. Zechariah and his wife Elizabeth were saintly Israelites who faithfully observed the law of God. Like Abraham and Sarah, he and his wife were elderly, and, humanly speaking, must remain childless. Hence the child to be born was in a special way a gift of God, a child of grace like Isaac and Samuel. To Zechariah had fallen the highest priestly duty of burning fresh incense on the altar which stood before the Holy of Holies. It was an auspicious moment for a divine message. A startling message indeed: in old age he will father a son - to be born of his elderly and barren wife!
Zechariah's request for a sign betrayed understandable scepticism. The sign he received was also a rebuke; he will be dumb and deaf. The ceremony of offering incense was simple and brief and the people who awaited the priestly blessing wondered at the delay. When the priest emerged they recognised in his dumbness the effect of a vision, while he conveyed as much to them by signs. Zechariah was not one of the priests who lived in Jerusalem; his home was in a village in the hill country of Judaea. Soon after, in line with the heavenly message, his wife Elizabeth conceived.
Zechariah was a righteous man. He was human enough, however, to be taken aback. The ways of God can seem very strange, incredible indeed, even to a saintly man.
This is the Story of Jesus drawn from the four Evangelists
Gospel passages accompanied by a number of brief commentaries