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St. John the Baptist

John the Baptist Matthew 3

I love John the Baptist, to me he is a very romantic figure. He obviously had presence and charisma. He was totally fearless and unafraid to speak out against wrong and hypocrisy. John was a very special person.

John was special in scripture: prophets spoke of him centuries before he was born, “ . . . the voice of one crying in the wilderness, make straight the way of the Lord” So he was always destined to play a key role in the Divine plan to save the world that God made and loves so much.

In the heavenly realms too John was very special for it was the angel Gabriel who came to announce his coming to his father Zechariah to make sure he would be aware of just how special this child would be “ . . . great in the sight of the Lord . . . and filled with the Holy Spirit even in the womb” He gave instructions that he was to be called John and was not to touch alcohol.

John was special to his elderly father, who must have long given up all thought of fatherhood as he diligently carried out his priestly duties. On this particular day when his life changed forever Zechariah had been selected to offer incense in the Sanctuary; so there he was, on his own, carrying out his priestly duty when suddenly he was not alone! The angel Gabriel was there with him! Zechariah was terrified poor man and he could not believe the wonderful news the angel came to bring; news that his wife would bear him a son who would bring them joy and gladness. Because Zechariah could not actually bring himself to believe this incredible news he was struck dumb until the after the baby’s birth. This baby who when a man would turn the hearts of many of the people of Israel back to their God and would make them ready, make them a people prepared for the Lord.

Elizabeth, John’s mother had been married to Zechariah for many years and they were a very devout couple and, sadly, childless. Can we imagine the joy of this old lady when she knew she was going to be a mother? How very special this baby would be to her! How greatly cherished! There are other instances in the bible of other women who were many years past child-bearing age whom God blessed with a son. Sara and Hannah for instance.

John was special to the Virgin Mary who was cousin to Elizabeth, for Mary had been told by the angel Gabriel “Your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son, and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. For nothing will be impossible for God”.
So Mary went straight away to stay with her cousin and when she arrived at Elizabeth’s home in the hill country and greeted her, the baby John leapt in her womb for joy at the sound of her voice. Mary stayed throughout the remainder of Elizabeth’s pregnancy until John’s birth.

Finally, when this much-heralded baby was born, Zechariah wrote that he was to be called John and it was then that his tongue was loosened and he regained the power of speech. Overjoyed and filled with the Holy Spirit he prophesied movingly about his son in the most wonderful words, words that we still say today, words that continue to have the power to move us. They are called the Benedictus which contains some of my favourite verses in the bible. “In the tender compassion of our God the dawn from on high shall break upon us, to shine on them who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death and to guide our feet into the way of peace.”

And so the child John grew up and became strong in spirit – does that sound as though he may have been rebellious against society? We read that “he was in the wilderness until the day he appeared publicly in Israel”. His wilderness experience would have shaped his life, making him rely on God to provide for his daily needs and making him at one with the world of nature. It would have taught him survival techniques and probably gave him a disdain for soft living and for all those in authority who abused their position.

When John at last appeared in Israel he would have created quite a stir. He wasn’t dressed in linen as his father the priest probably was but in the rough clothes of a peasant, the same attire as the prophet Elijah wore hundreds of years before him. He probably spoke in the synagogues in his area and his preaching must have been powerful and compelling.

This unconventional and charismatic young man built up quite a following of disciples so much so that when he went to preach by the River Jordan people came flocking to hear him and to be baptised in the Jordan. John, like Jesus, was thirty years old. These two amazing young men began to set the world alight, began to change it. John, this very special man, played a vitally important part in God’s plan to save the world.

And though I find it incredible and hard to take in I firmly believe that each and every one of us is important in God’s plan. We all have our part to play in changing the world in some way. We may or may not respond positively, we may or may not recognise what our particular calling is nor how we fit into the great scheme of things. We may think of ourselves as small and unimportant but what matters is that we stay faithful to ‘the way, the truth and the life’ of Jesus so that God can use us to further his marvellous plan for the world, and we mustn’t ever lose sight of the fact that we are loved by Almighty God and precious to Him.

John the Baptist
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