Advent: The Birth of John the Baptist
“Now the time came for Elizabeth to give birth, and she bore a son. And her neighbors and relatives heard that the Lord had shown great mercy to her, and they rejoiced with her. And on the eighth day they came to circumcise the child. And they would have called him Zechariah after his father, but his mother answered, “No; he shall be called John.” And they said to her, “None of your relatives is called by this name.” And they made signs to his father, inquiring what he wanted him to be called. And he asked for a writing tablet and wrote, “His name is John.” And they all wondered. And immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue loosed, and he spoke, blessing God. And fear came on all their neighbors. And all these things were talked about through all the hill country of Judea, and all who heard them laid them up in their hearts, saying, “What then will this child be?” For the hand of the Lord was with him.” (Luke 1:57–66)
Read: Luke 1:57–66
Reflection on the Birth of John the Baptist
Nine months have passed since the angel Gabriel visited Zechariah, and now the time has come. Luke records these first few verses as if everything is normal. But, Elizabeth gave birth to the miracle child at an old age. Naturally, her neighbors and relatives “rejoiced with her.” To safely give birth to a healthy child was difficult in the first century and even more unlikely for women of Elizabeth’s age. Yahweh had surely “shown great mercy to her.” God’s promise regarding their son (Luke 1:12-13) is already coming to fruition! Their miracle son is here, and many are rejoicing at his birth. Zechariah and Elizabeth took the baby to be circumcised on his eighth day of life, according to the Old Testament law (Genesis 18:12). From everything we read in the first chapter of Luke, the couple has continued their faithful and obedient lifestyle. For nine months, the elderly couple seems to have consistently trusted the Lord to hold true to His promises. Think what a wonderful testimony this was to their neighbors and family.
This was more than a surprise baby. This was an impossible (but healthy) pregnancy and birth. The Lord was highlighting His power over every aspect of life. Every breath of life is a gift from the Author of life! Christ’s theme of raising the lowly and lowering the proud has already begun.
Verses 59-60 signify a turn in the narrative when Luke records Elizabeth’s conversation about John’s name. Naming him John was a significant cultural shift by the joyful parents, as he should have taken his father’s name (Zechariah). But John’s parents were not worried about honoring their own legacy. This was not about their family name being carried on. John the Baptist was born to proclaim the arrival of Abraham’s seed who would rescue God’s people from sin. They were grateful for this small role they could play and were most concerned about honoring the Yahweh. Personal preference didn’t matter and cultural standards didn’t matter. What did matter was God’s Word spoken to them through Gabriel. The Lord had blessed them with a son—He would call the shots.
Zechariah hasn’t been able to speak for nearly a year, and his first words are words of blessing to God! The gift of a son overwhelmed any trials he experienced through being mute. For nine months, God’s praises had been welling up inside his soul. There wasn’t anger at God or frustrations with others hanging on his lips. Rather, he couldn’t wait any longer to proclaim words of exaltation to his King. Most of us can’t sit silent and listen to a short conversation, or focus long enough to read a chapter of the Bible. Zechariah, on the other hand, had been dwelling on the wondrous gift of life he was watching bloom before his eyes. He could have selfishly focused on his own muteness. But instead, he glorified God for restoring his voice. He could have idolized his new son. But instead, he worshipped the Giver who created Him in His own image.
These signs and responses together formed an effective witness to the Lord’s glory. People all across the land thought on John’s birth and wondered about what role it would play in the Advent of the Messiah. Without a doubt, they knew the Lord was with John the Baptist. “For the hand of the Lord was with him.” Elizabeth’s faithful obedience mattered. Zechariah’s worshipful thankfulness mattered.
- Think about your decisions and actions. Are they pointing to the glory of the Giver of life? Or, do they serve your own legacy and comfort in this world?
- Think about your words. Does your mouth pour out thankful blessings to God or selfish frustrations to those around you? Has your heart been abiding in Christ and meditating on His goodness, or have you been pining over what you don’t yet have?
Lord, thank you for intricately preparing the way for your Son to come. I praise you for using sinful, normal people in your plan and making your name great by blessing your children. Teach me to obey and praise you in every situation. Help me exhibit your glory to my neighbors and friends.
Family Discipleship Time
- What does it mean that God showed Elizabeth “great mercy”? (God was giving her a son at an age much older than was physically possible.)
- Why did Zechariah and Elizabeth name him “John”? (Because Gabriel, the angel, told them to call him “John” when he announced that God was going to give them a son.)
- How long was Zechariah not able to talk? Was he angry or sad when he was able to talk again? (During her entire pregnancy, Zechariah couldn’t speak for at least 9 months. When he spoke again, he was thankful to God. He praised to the Lord.)
- Article – “Advent Exists Because Worship Doesn’t” by Dieudonne Tamfu (Desiring God)
- Article – “Celebrating When No One Around You Is: Christmas in a Muslim Culture” by David Austin (IMB)
- Article – “The Community Every Muslim Background Believer Needs” by Ant Greenham (IMB)
Free Advent Bible Study (2023)
Let’s stand back and marvel at God’s grace and sovereignty, and focus on God this Christmas. May we join with the angels singing, “Glory to God in the highest” (Luke 2:14).
Join this 25-day Advent journey as we worship Christ and celebrate his coming.
John Ragon is Snowbird’s website manager. He lives in Western NC with his wife and six amazing kids, and began serving at Snowbird in 2009 after graduating from Union University.
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