Advent 2017: Joy to the World

Day 20: The Birth of John the Baptist

Luke 1:57-80


“His name is John” has such resonance, it makes one wonder whether it inspired Herman Melville’s infamous opening line from Moby Dick: “Call me Ishmael.” It’s like the flap of a butterfly wing that ripples into a hurricane of prophetic hope. Or maybe it is one more ripple in the sequence God started months earlier with an angel’s proclamation in the Holy of Holies (Luke 1:5-25). In that moment John’s father, Zechariah, was struck dumb for doubting God’s word, but now his tongue is loosed.

The birth of any baby is a miracle. But when a mute father begins to speak, gives his son a name appointed by God Himself, and then declares, “You child, will be called prophet of the Most High”—it truly makes people sit up and ask, “What will he become?”

Zechariah answers.

The priest begins with proclamations about God’s graciousness in providing redemption, salvation, and His steadfast mercy to Israel throughout the centuries. He describes God’s faithfulness in remembering His promises, and acknowledges the privilege Israel has been given in serving Him in righteousness. Then he turns to little John, an infant in his arms, and declares, “You will go before the Lord to prepare His way” (Luke 1:76).

What a destiny.

In the church we dedicate children to the Lord, or baptize them before the Lord, in the hope and belief that they will come to follow Him. That is a rich legacy, no doubt. But the dedication of John is uniquely divine; it’s a prophecy over the one who will make way for the Messiah, telling God’s people of His gift of salvation through forgiveness of sin. The message of mercy John will share will shine the light of Christ into the darkness of a lost world (John 12:46).

So many things about this story stand out: the naming of John, Zechariah’s healing, and the prophecy over his infant son. But what we should see above all is God’s care for humanity. He is a healer and a keeper of His word and His covenants. He is merciful, sending His messengers to prepare us for salvation. John laid the groundwork and cleared the path for the Messiah because God knew that was best. John’s natural birth was a supernatural gift given to prepare mankind for the most miraculous of births of all time.

Written by Barnabas Piper