Birth of St John The Baptist
Luke 1: 57 — 66
In the year 2001 the celebration of St John the Baptist's birthday fell on a Sunday. So highly has he been esteemed throughout the Church's 2000 year history that this celebration even displaced the normal Sunday readings and prayers. Indeed, so honoured is his memory, that in any traditional celebration of the Eucharist over this period of time, his name is always mentioned several times.
The Baptist's birthday was one of the first celebrations to find a place in the early Church's calendar.
"God has raised up no greater son of woman than John the Baptist'', declared our Lord: greater than Elijah or Isaiah, Jeremiah or Malachi, he was the prophet, a voice of God.
The Church celebrates in the birth of St. John the Baptist the dawn of salvation, the appearance in this world of the forerunner of the Messiah.
St. John the Baptist the "Prophet of the Most High", was foretold by Jeremiah and Isaiah. Indeed, in his mother's womb, he was destined to herald our Saviour and prepare souls for His coming. The Archangel Gabriel had announced to Zacharias that "many would rejoice" in the birth of John the Baptist; indeed, not only the parents and neighbours, who celebrated the event, are included in this prophecy; it extends to all Christians, whom the Church summons every year to celebrate the birth of the Forerunner of our Lord, with whose coming he is closely connected.
On this occasion we offer John Ryle's notes for our weekly meditation.
We have in this passage the history of a birth, the birth of a burning and shining light in the Church, the forerunner of Christ Himself, John the Baptist. The language in which the Holy Spirit describes the event is well worthy of remark. It is written, that "the Lord shewed great mercy on Elisabeth." There was mercy in bringing her safely through her time of trial. There was mercy in making her the mother of a living child. Happy are those family circles whose births are viewed in this light as especial instances of "the mercy" of the Lord.
We see in the conduct of Elizabeth's neighbours and cousins, a striking example of the kindness we owe to one another. It is written that "They rejoiced with her."
How much more happiness there would be in this troubled world, if conduct like that of Elisabeth's relations was more common! Sympathy in one another's joys and sorrows costs little, and yet is a grace of most mighty power. Like the oil on the wheels of some large engine, it may seem a trifling and unimportant thing, yet in reality it has an immense influence on the comfort and well-working of the whole machine of society. A kind word of congratulation or consolation is seldom forgotten. The heart that is warmed by good tidings, or chilled by affliction, is peculiarly susceptible, and sympathy to such a heart is often more precious than gold.
The servant of Christ will do well to remember this grace. It seems "a little one," and amidst the din of controversy, and the battle about mighty doctrines, we are sadly apt to overlook it. Yet it is one of those pins of the tabernacle which we must not leave in the wilderness. It is one of those ornaments of the Christian character which make it beautiful in the eyes of men. Let us not forget that it is enforced upon us by a special precept:: "Rejoice with them that do rejoice, and weep with them that weep." (Rom 12: 15)
The practice of it seems to bring down a special blessing. Those who came to comfort Mary and Martha at Bethany, saw the greatest miracle that Jesus ever worked. Above all, it is commended to us by the most perfect example. Our Lord was ready both to go to a marriage feast, and to weep at a grave. (John 2: 1, etc.) Let us be ever ready to go and do likewise.
We see in the conduct of Zacharias in this passage, a striking example of the benefit of affliction. He resists the wishes of his relations to call his new born son after his own name. He clings firmly to the name "John," by which the angel Gabriel had commanded him to be called. He shows that his nine months dumbness had not been inflicted on him in vain. He is no longer faithless, but believing. He now believes every word that Gabriel had spoken to him, and every word of his message shall be obeyed.
We need not doubt that the past nine months had been a most profitable time to the soul of Zacharias. He had learned, probably, more about his own heart, and about God, than he ever knew before. His conduct shows it. Correction had proved instruction. He was ashamed of his unbelief. Like Job, he could say, "I have heard of Thee by the hearing of the ear, but now mine eye seeth Thee." Like Hezekiah, when the Lord left him he had found out what was in his heart. (Job 43: 5; 2 Chron.3: 31.)
Let us take heed that affliction does us good, as it did to Zecharias. We cannot escape trouble in a sin-laden world. Man is "born to trouble, as the sparks fly upwards." (Job 5: 7.) But in the time of our trouble, let us make earnest prayer, .. that we may learn wisdom, and not harden our hearts against God.
"Sanctified afflictions", says an old divine, are "spiritual promotions." The sorrow that humbles us, and drives us nearer to God, is a blessing, and a downright gain. No case is more hopeless than that of the man who, in time of affliction, turns his back upon God .
We see in the early history of John Baptist the 'nature of the blessing' that we should desire for all young children. We read that "the hand of the Lord was with him". We are not told distinctly what these words mean. We are left to gather their meaning from the promise that went before John before his birth, and the life that John lived all his days. But we need not doubt that the hand of the Lord was with John to sanctify and renew his heart to teach and fit him for his office to strengthen him for all his work as the forerunner of the Lamb of God to encourage him in all his bold denunciation of men's sins and to comfort him in his last hours, when he was beheaded in prison. We know that he was filled with the Holy Spirit from his mother's womb. We need not doubt that from his earliest years the grace of the Holy Spirit appeared in his ways. In his boyhood as well as in his manhood the constraining power of a mighty principle from above appeared in him. That power was "the hand of the Lord."
This is the portion that we ought to seek for our children. It is the best portion, the happiest portion, the only portion that can never be lost, and will endure beyond the grave. It is good to have over them " the hand" of teachers and instructors; but it is better still to have "the hand of the Lord." We may be thankful if they obtain the patronage of the great and the rich. But we ought to care far more for their obtaining the favour of God. "The hand of the Lord" is a thousand times better than the hand of Herod. The one is weak, foolish, and uncertain; caressing to-day, and beheading to-morrow. The other is almighty, all-wise, and unchangeable. Where it holds it holds for evermore. Let us bless God that the Lord never changes. What He was in John the Baptist's days, He is now. What He did for the son of Zacharias, He can do for our boys and girls. But He waits to be entreated. If we would have the hand of the Lord with our children, we must diligently seek it.
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