Season of the Advent – Birth of St. John the Baptist (St. Luke 1:57-80) – Part 1


As the Indian Orthodox Church enters into the holy Advent fast, preparing herself for the birth of the Saviour, Jesus Christ, the church commemorates the coming Sunday for the birth of blessed St. John the Baptist. The Gospel portion read on the Sunday is from the Gospel according to St. Luke 1:57-80.


Background


He that was greater than all who are born of women, the Prophet who received God’s testimony that he surpassed all the Prophets, was born of the aged and barren Elizabeth (Luke 1:7) and filled all his kinsmen, and those that lived round about, with gladness and wonder. But even more wondrous was that which followed on the eighth day when he was circumcised, that is, the day on which a male child receives his name. Those present called him Zacharias, the name of his father. But the mother said, “Not so, but he shall be called John.” Since the child’s father was unable to speak, he was asked, by means of a sign, to indicate the child’s name. He then asked for a tablet and wrote, “His name is John.” And immediately Zacharias’ mouth was opened, his tongue was loosed from its silence of nine months, and filled with the Holy Spirit, he blessed the God of Israel, Who had fulfilled the promises made to their fathers, and had visited them that were sitting in darkness and the shadow of death, and had sent to them the light of salvation.

Zacharias prophesied concerning the child also, saying that he would be a Prophet of the Most High and Forerunner of Jesus Christ. And the child John, who was filled with grace, grew and waxed strong in the Spirit; and he was in the wilderness until the day of his showing to Israel (Luke 1:57-80). His name is a variation of the Hebrew “Johanan,” which means “Yahweh is gracious.”

Icon of the Nativity of St. John the Baptist


As I reflect on the Gospel passage, I face a peculiar question that has been in the lives of many people throughout generations from the beginning of time itself. Various times in our life we ask this question of ourselves, at various points of our life: ‘What is the purpose of our life? What is the purpose of our birth into this world? What is the purpose of us being called the followers of Christ?’


In a world where people are looking towards influential personalities as their icons and role models, the Church shows us a role model whom we can easily emulate in our daily life: St John the Baptist, who is also titled as prophet and forerunner of the Messiah. He has been titled such because he has fulfilled all the three roles , speaking the word of the Lord as he prepared the way for the coming of Christ, calling God’s people to repentance and baptism, and even baptizing the incarnate Son of God at the very moment when the Holy Trinity was revealed by the voice of the Father and the descent of the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove upon the Lord in the Jordan. Even before St. John was born, he pointed to Christ, leaping in the womb of St. Elizabeth at the arrival of the pregnant Theotokos, who contained within her the Savior of the world.


After years of prophetic silence in Israel, since the time of Malachi, John was sent as a prophet to the aged Zacharias and barren Elizabeth, with the mission to be “the voice calling out in the desert to make ready a people prepared for the Lord” (Malachi 3:1). And what a prophet St. John was: An ascetic who lived in the desert, subsisted on a diet of locusts and honey, and fearlessly called religious leaders, soldiers, tax-collectors, and even King Herod to turn from their sinful ways and to live righteously. He eventually lost his head for criticizing the immorality of the royal family. It’s not surprising that one sent to prepare the way for Jesus Christ was killed by those who loved their own power more than God.


As followers of Christ, we are called to be “a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, to proclaim the virtues of Him who called us out of darkness into His marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9), and how many of us feel this calling in out hearts and daily lives? St. John the Baptist is an apt role model for a generation in search of role models to dedicate ones self to God’s purposes and be a holy person to be known as God’s possession.


As we think about this, I will stop my thoughts here and share the follow-up on the next blog. Stay tuned.