In Part 1 of the same title, I shared with you the thoughts that the titles of St. John the Baptist evoked in me and helped us to look at St. John as the role model in this world and enabling us 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.
Icon of the family of Zachariah, Elizabeth and St John the Baptist
In this section I would like to focus our attention to the parents of John the Baptist – Zachariah and Elizabeth. The joy of every couple in this world is their child/children whom they have begotten in this world and the dream of every parent is for the child to grow healthy and wise and be successful in the world. The joy is more profound for those couples who may have waited many years, facing many trials and waiting many years upon the Lord to be blessed to see the hands and feet of a little child in their midst, for the Psalmist says:
Children are a heritage from the Lord, offspring a reward from Him…
In the same manner, the birth of John in the life of the aged parents would have brought them with great joy. And just like any other parent, they also might have had dreams and wishes for their son. They also might have wished to see their son grow older and spend the years of their life with him, teach him in the ways of the Lord, the ways and duties of the priestly descendants of Aaron and tribe of Levi. How much their hearts might have yearned for to spend their remaining years with him.
But tradition says that Zachariah dies a death of a martyr while protecting his wife and child from the soldiers of King Herod. Within half an year of the birth of John, King Herod orders his soldiers to slaughter the infants boys of Bethlehem and the surrounding regions. Zacharia was killed by the soldiers when they could not find the baby John and Elizabeth miraculously hid herself and her baby in a cave from this terror and after forty days, she too died. John grew up in the wilderness, fed by the angels and protected by God.
Icon of St John the Baptist
When we listen to the praise of Zachariah when his tongue was loosened after the birth of his son, he blessed God for the salvation that would come in Jesus Christ in fulfillment of the original promise to Abraham. He must have had some time to ponder what he and Elizabeth had in common with Abraham and Sarah during those months when he could not speak, and he finally saw the connection. He also prophesied about his own son being called the prophet of the Highest and going before the face of the Lord to prepare His ways and to give the knowledge of salvation to His people by the remission of their sins (St. Luke 1:76-79). How many of us parents in our daily life would really expect our children to focus their total attention to the ways of the Lord?
We, as parents, though looking for the welfare of our children, we struggle too much so that our children can succeed in this worldly life, and many a times forgetting to teach our children about the everlasting life that awaits each and every one of us. We forget to submit our children to the Lord’s care. We forget how He overthrows political and religious leaders with little babies, pregnant women, and confused old men. And how He prepares the way for the Messiah with a prophet who lived anything but a conventional or comfortable life.
The same God who worked in such outrageous ways through St. John and his parents continues to operate in our lives, our church, and our world. And He calls each of us to do what Zacharias originally failed to do: to believe and obey that salvation and blessing really are for us, that we have a unique role to play in how the Lord redeems and heals His good creation, here and now, today, in our generation and in the generation of our children.
I feel that parents of the current generation have sold ourselves and God short. We have assumed that our faith does no more than support our prejudices and preconceived notions, and those of our society. We have rested easy with our faith making us a bit more religious and perhaps less stressed out before life’s challenges. Rarely have we taken Christ at His word to be the living icons of the Kingdom of God, making ourselves perfect just like our Father in Heaven Who is perfect. When we sell ourselves short and do not believe in the complete grace of our Father to become divine participants, how then can we expect our children to become one?
As the church celebrates the Children’s Day, let us as parents and teachers, learn from the life of Zacharia and Elizabeth and trust in the Lord even unto our old age to believe in the promises of the Lord and bring forth prophets and prophetesses, priests and lay leaders who will dedicate their life to the service of the Lord. The Jews of the first century desperately needed a wake-up call, and did they ever get one in St. John the Prophet, Forerunner, and Baptist! We need his shocking message and witness in our time right now. And even as Zacharia eventually came to his senses, we can too. The Lord wants to replace our spiritual barrenness with an abundance of new life as a sign of the salvation of the world.
Let’s take Him at His word and live accordingly. That’s the best way to celebrate the birthday of St. John.
May the intercessions of St. John the Baptist and his blessed parents be with us all, as we prepare our hearts and life to welcome our Master and Saviour in our life.