The Nativity of John the Baptist is a mouthful, but that is the name of the Festival we are celebrating this week. Nativity just means birth, and the birth of this child restored voice to his father. John the Baptist’s father, Zechariah, has been struck dumb when he did not believe that God would give him, and his wife Elizabeth, a child. After the birth John’s mother said her baby’s name would be John. Family and friends questioned this, as it was not a family name, and deferred to Zechariah who wrote on a tablet, “His name shall be John.” This act of faith confirmed that this was the extraordinary work of God.
The prophetic work of John the Baptist was about preparing a place for Jesus – who would restore voice not just to those close to him – but would allow the voices of anyone who came to Him to be valued and listened to. The age into which John was born was one of noise and violence. Powerful people controlled state and religion. The voice of God had become confused with the voice of factions and party in-fighting.
This restoration of speech in the birth of John is a shadow of the restoration of the right of speech to all humanity. John is the prophet of the Christ, he is the foreshadowing of the Messiah. This baby whom Zechariah and Elizabeth never expected to parent was the “voice crying in the wilderness, prepare a way for the Lord.”
The wilderness into which John entered was not just literal, but a spiritual. A place of desolation and abandonment for God’s chosen people. His birth heralds a new time and, in the heat of the summer, draws us back to the story of a Savior who is coming, who is always coming to each and every one of us to listen and restore and hold.