December 17th – A Teaching: What John Becomes for Every Advent

Luke 1: 63—66:

Zechariah asked for a writing tablet, then astonished everyone by writing, His name is John. Immediately his mouth was opened, his tongue loosed, and he began to utter praises to God.

Fear fell on their neighbors. These events were discussed throughout the whole hill country of Judea, and all who heard them stored them in their hearts, wondering, “What will this child become, then?”—for the hand of the Lord was with him . . . .

As the child grew up, he became strong in the spirit, and he stayed in the wilderness until the day of his public appearance in Israel.

Here, in Luke’s telling, are five marvelous and fearful events that surrounded the birth of John, evidence that the Lord was up to something.

—She who conceived him and bore him was very old.

—At this circumcision, his mother chose an odd name, and though the father was deaf to it, he wrote in clay the self-same name. What a tremendous, mystery harmony between these two!

—But that harmony came straight form God, since their common act was the first fulfillment of Gabriel’s prophecy to Zechariah: You shall call his name John.

—The second angelic prophecy had already been fulfilled, for there were “many rejoicing at this birth” (compare vv. 14 and 58).

—And the third prophecy was fulfilled the instant Zechariah wrote John. Though friends and relatives could not have realized that Zechariah’s action was directly connected to heaven, the action itself was marvelous enough to astonish them. For suddenly the man who had been mute nine months erupted voluble praises to God.

No, this was no common birth. Yes, the hand of the Lord was clearly with this infant. What, then, would the Lord require of him hereafter? What was his function in the plans of God?

What, the people wondered, will this child become?

By this question and by that concluding reference to the child’s life “in the wilderness until the day of his public appearance,” Luke’s story forces us to contemplate what the child in fact became: John the Baptist, “The voice of one crying in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way of the Lord!’ “

Christian, that advent of Jesus two thousand years ago is not the actual Advent yet to come for us.

As John, who cried Prepare to Israel, was the messenger of that first appearing, so John is the messenger now of the reappearing, the Second Coming of Christ!

Still, still he cries: Prepare!

Are we listening?

Do we, who are busy preparing for Christmas, parties and presents and decorations and food and church programs—and visitors—do we prepare with equal fervor for the visitation of the Lord?

What sort of Advent is the imminent Advent for you? If you are consumed by one more Christmas (one mere Christmas among two-thousand) your Advent is fleeting, time-bound, and likely self-absorbed. Desperate preparations often indicate an anxiety about the opinions of others regarding ourselves. But if your participation in this temporal Advent truly signifies preparations for the final Advent, you are Christ-absorbed.

An anonymous poem, written when there were still kings in the land, expresses the failure to read the marvelous and fearful signs that surround the holy birth:

Yet, if His Majesty, our sovereign Lord,

Should of his own accord

Friendly himself invite

And say, “I’ll be your guest tomorrow night”—

How should we stir ourselves, call and command

All hands to work: “Let no man idle stand;

Set me fine Spanish tables in the hall;

See they by fitted all,

That there be room to eat

And order taken that there want no meat;

See every sconce and candlestick made bright

That without tapers they may give a light;

Look to the presents; are the carpets spread?

The daisy o’er the head?

The cushions in the chairs?

And all the candles lighted on the stairs?

Perfume the chambers and in any case

Let each man give attendance in this place.”

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