57Now the time came for Elizabeth to give birth, and she bore a son. 58Her neighbors and relatives heard that the Lord had shown his great mercy to her, and they rejoiced with her. 59On the eighth day they came to circumcise the child, and they were going to name him Zechariah after his father. 60But his mother said, “No; he is to be called John.” 61They said to her, “None of your relatives has this name.” 62Then they began motioning to his father to find out what name he wanted to give him. 63He asked for a writing tablet and wrote, “His name is John.” And all of them were amazed. 64Immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue freed, and he began to speak, praising God. 65Fear came over all their neighbors, and all these things were talked about throughout the entire hill country of Judea. 66All who heard them pondered them and said, “What then will this child become?” For, indeed, the hand of the Lord was with him. (Luke 1: 68-80)
We don’t always pay attention to this story. It is not the story of a manger. It is not the story of an angel appearing to a young maiden. It is not the story of a star that leads its followers to the place they are called to go. It is the story of another baby, a baby named John. Born to older parents, parents who had never thought they would have a child, parents who were related to the young Mary, who held her in their arms after her encounter with the angel and told her that everything would be alright, that she was blessed, that she was not alone.
And so he became John. And, it says, they pondered what he would become. Of course, every parent does that, wonders what this child they hold will become. I’ve done it when I’ve held a baby that is only an hour old. You hold the baby and there is a sense that you are holding all the hopes of the world, the chance for things to change, to move just a bit closer to what God envisioned they could be. What then will this child become? They may have dreamed that he would become a learned rabbi or a great leader or a successful businessman. They probably did not dream that he would make his way into the wilderness, cover himself with animal skins, and live off of the earth. They probably did not dream that he would place himself in the position he did that would eventually get him executed. They probably did not dream that this child they were holding would be the one that got it, would be the one that would point people to the Messiah, would be the one that would be the forerunner of the Messiah.
So, why do we read this during Advent when we are supposed to be preparing ourselves for the coming of Christ, for that manger birth of our Messiah? Because Jesus was not born out of or into a vacuum. Jesus, fully human just as he was fully Divine, had a mother and a father and, later, even siblings. And he had this cousin. Maybe they grew up together, played together, schemed and dreamed and played with their first-century toys. Maybe they came in muddied and torn and their mothers wondered where they’d been. See, God seldom sets us up to work alone. Even Jesus had the one that pointed people his way. His name was John. He was not the One, but he pointed to the One. So, “what then will this child become?” What the child became is exactly what God called him to be—the messenger, the forerunner, the One who would pave the path that God had outlined, who would give all that he was for Jesus and for what Jesus would bring the world.
So, then, why do we read this during Advent? Maybe because Jesus is not an historic figure for us to emulate; Jesus is not some future image that we aspire to one day meet; Jesus is God-With-Us, Emmanuel, here, now. And what, then, will we become? THIS Advent, let us become the one who points to the One, the one who helps pave the way for the world to know the Christ that comes. So are you almost ready?
I cannot create the light. The best I can do is put myself in the path of its beam. (Annie Dillard)
Grace and Peace,