This Sunday, many will celebrate the “Nativity of John the Baptist”, looking again at the way Luke begins his gospel. He has a story of change to tell – radical change, as Jesus brings a new way of finding God, living life fully, and belonging to his people and his world. Yet the story begins with an elderly couple, not known as especially important, with worship (even at its most traditional, in the temple in Jerusalem), and the fulfillment of promises.
Zechariah the priest is no celebrity. He does his turn of duty in the temple, and may have been surprised to be chosen to offer the incense. He was certainly surprised to meet an angel with a message for him! But the experience was not all celebration – he is dumb for a time. (This is all part of Luke 1, though before the reading set which is Luke 1:57-66, 80). The angel’s promise comes true, and a boy is born. We shall know him as John the Baptist, a cousin of Jesus, and the “forerunner”, who prepares the way for Jesus’ ministry.
Strange, isn’t it, how radical change begins with a relatively elderly couple, faithful to the old ways of worship and living, and works through promises, both old and new? Perhaps it’s not so strange. Our God does new things, but with a sense of continuity. The promises of the scripture give pointers and reassurance to those who want to keep up. We celebrate the Nativity of John (and perhaps also his beheading, in August), knowing that both we beyond his immediate control, as God let his life and death be a sign for those watching. That would be quite something for use to be given, too!