The Other Baby in the Christmas Story

The story of Christmas is really one about the birth of two boys.

Yes, the Son of Mary was and is the Most High, but the son of Elizabeth and Zechariah cannot be dismissed. This boy and his part in the purpose of the Lord have so much to teach us, especially given our present world circumstances.

Consider again that the miracle of John’s conception and birth was an answer to the prayers and hopes of a faithful couple. Elizabeth and Zechariah kept their sights of God, and there were others just like them.

Were they discouraged at times? For sure, they were. The way Zechariah responded to the promise presented him by the angel Gabriel indicates that this priest’s faith had ebbed. His heart was like the smoking, smoldering flax of Isaiah 42:3. The candle of hope in him was almost snuffed out by disappointment.

And then came the Word from the Lord.

John would be the prophet told about and called Elijah, for his arrival came suddenly and spoke to the people’s need to turn back to God. He was the forerunner, the man with the Message, the man sent to preach repentance, the man who pointed to Jesus as the Lamb of God who would come to take away the sins of the world (see John 1).

The coming of John the Baptist should speak to us. These are days of increasing darkness. We sense the rise of evil about us. More than just seeing disaster and distress on the news, we encounter it on the streets and sidewalks.

Have you sensed the absence of honor and dignity? Life has been so devalued. So many seem virtually numb to the preponderance of violence and death.

And yet babies continue to be born. Psalm 8 tells us it is the cries of infants that speak loudest to the majesty of our God, who lives and reigns.

Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!
You have set your glory above the heavens. Out of the mouth of babies and infants, you have established strength because of your foes, to still the enemy and the avenger” (Psalm 8:1-2).

Graced by Yahweh

In Luke 1, we read of something like a baby shower. Neighbors and relatives gathered around Elizabeth. The promised son was born to her. All celebrated this boy to be a gift of mercy. Oh, but John was so much more.

The ceremony of circumcision came due – eight days after the birth. These people remained scrupulous in their practices of the rules given to Moses by God. They would follow the commands and dedicate the son and his parents to the service of God.

Tradition held that this baby boy, the firstborn, should carry the name of his father, and so he was at first referred to as Zechariah. “But his mother answered, ‘No, he shall be called John’” (Luke 1:60). This protestation caused a big stir; some likely saw this as an affront to the family and, especially to the head of the household, a man who was from the line of priests after all.

Zechariah, mute throughout Elizabeth’s pregnancy, as Gabriel said he would be, was asked to weigh in on his wife’s declaration. This old priest had been instructed about the name on that remarkable day in the Temple, the day he offered the incense and was met by the angel. He spelled things out for everyone on a writing tablet:  “His name is John” and wonder fell upon them.

Joy was soon to arrive in the world. God would be most gracious in blessing the earth with His presence in the Person of Jesus. Click To Tweet

Even more wonderful to them was what came next. “And immediately Zechariah’s mouth was opened and his tongue loosed, and he spoke, blessing God” (Luke 1:64). What a lesson in obedience. Following instructions set Zechariah free – free to shout and sing.

What’s in a name? Jesus means “Yahweh saves.” The Savior also would be called Emmanuel, meaning “God with us.”

The name John, too, carries a great definition for our understanding. The Hebrew form – “Yohanan” – refers to being literally “graced by Yahweh.”

Joy was soon to arrive in the world. God would be most gracious in blessing the earth with His presence in the Person of Jesus.

The mission of John would be to announce this Yahweh grace. He appeared on the scene to tell of the One that would make way for the cleansing fire of the Holy Spirit to flow into hearts.

Those who saw and heard the things that happened that circumcision day “laid them up in their hearts” and they could not keep quiet about them. They spread the news through the hills of Judea.

A Mouth Opened in Song

“What will this child be?”

This was the question regarding John. This lingered in the minds and on the lips of these witnesses. Zechariah sang out the answer as the Holy Spirit moved him to praise.

Zechariah versed out holy prophecies. John the Baptist, he sang, would grow into something of a trumpet. Later, this boy and his voice would emerge from the wilderness to announce the coming of redemption and deliverance for the Lord “raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of His servant David” (Luke 1:69). Christ the Lord, the Son of David, the Son of Abraham is that one, true Savior.

Look at the song of Zechariah. Read and take heart in all that is involved in our “so great salvation.”

The mercy promised by God saves us from our enemies who hate us – these enemies being the world, the flesh, and the devil. More than just rescued from the prison of sin and the control of death and hell, we are made more than conquerors through Him who loved us and gave Himself for us.

The covenant and oath of the Lord to Abraham is fulfilled, Zechariah’s song says. We can read the promise to the father of our faith in Genesis 15. There, the Lord tells Abraham, though childless at that moment, that his offspring shall be as numerous as the stars of the sky. (And consider that the Lord names every star.) “And Abraham believed the Lord, and He counted it to him as righteousness” (Genesis 15:8).

Every word of praise sung here in Luke 1 is in the present tense. This hymn sees the work of God as “the end of all perfection” (see Psalm 119: 96). All that God has done is ours as a possession the moment we believe.

Let’s remember His holy covenant so that we “might serve Him without fear in righteousness and holiness before Him all our days” (Luke 1:74-75).

Morning is coming. The Daystar, the Bright and Glorious One shall arise. He shall come again.

What are we to do in the meantime?

I think that we are to be like him who was born to Elizabeth and Zechariah. We can be in our day as John was in his day.

We can grow and become strong in the Spirit. We can sing of Him who saves and delivers and brings victory.

Light is with us. We can shine forth the Gospel of Jesus to “those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death” (Luke 1:78). Our feet can guide people to the Prince of Peace.

May we prepare the way for the Lord and ever “give knowledge of His salvation.”

 

Steve Andrulonis
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