A Homily from Fr Norbert for The Feast of the Birth of John the Baptist

Luke Chapter 1:57-66, 80

Where's it heading?

Sometimes we really miss the obvious. Did you know that Jewish names had a meaning attached to them? Do you know what John means? How many people think of John as the forerunner, the precursor of Jesus, preparing the way of the Lord. All that may be true but it is not what Luke is on about. John means ‘God has shown his favour’.

‘Favour’ is a key word in Luke’s gospel. At the baptism of Our Lord by John in the Jordan a voice says, ‘This is my beloved son on whom my favour rests’. In the story of the shepherds at the birth of our Lord, the angels sing, ‘Peace on earth among those whom he favours’.

Luke is a very accomplished story teller. He suggests as much as he tells. He wants us to get involved in the story which is why he gives hints. The hint in today’s story is in the name of John’s father. His name is Zechariah.

And Zechariah is a prophet. In Luke’s story, John’s father, Zechariah, is a prophet. When he says John is his name’ He is saying ‘God has shown his favour’.

In the Old Testament we have the book of Zachariah, the prophet of God’s promise to his people. He prophesies the return of the exiles from Babylon to Jerusalem. He prophesies that the Lord will dwell in Jerusalem. He will dwell in the temple there, the symbol of his presence.

‘Jerusalem will be inhabited like villages without walls, because of the multitude of the people and animals in it. For I will be a wall of fire around it, says the Lord, and I will be the glory within it.’

Or again: ‘Lo, I will come and dwell in your midst, says the lord. Many nations will join themselves to the Lord on that day and shall be my people; and I will dwell in your midst. And you shall know that the lord of hosts has sent me to you.’

The prophecies of Zachariah shape the gospel of Luke. Jesus journeys from the north to Jerusalem. Jerusalem is to be the city of his greatest failure and his greatest triumph.

The prophecies of Zachariah will shape the story of Pentecost in Luke. ‘On that day, many nations will join themselves to the Lord and shall be my people. And you shall know that the Lord of hosts has sent me’.

Luke, the great story teller, transposes and transforms the prophecies of Zachariah. The temple, which Zachariah, the father of John, served so faithfully like many before him, will become the body of Christ.

As Jesus will promise, ‘Destroy this temple, and in three days I will rebuild it’. The new temple, the new Jerusalem, the body of Christ, will be ‘like a village without walls .... the Lord will be a wall of fire around it and the Lord will be the glory within it. ‘I will dwell in your midst. And you shall know that the Lord has sent me’. The Lord has visited his people.

The feasts of Pentecost, the Trinity, the Eucharist and the Birth of John the Baptist, together, lay out for us the fulfilment of God’s promise to Abraham. Abraham’s descendants will be blessed and they will become a blessing to all peoples.

We are the inheritors of blessings, blessings which are not meant to be clasped to ourselves but to be blessings for all peoples, for his gift is, as he says, ‘peace to all on whom my favour rests’.