I don't know about you, but I hate being interrupted. Do you know why? Because interruptions mess up my plans. I was happily, or at least purposefully, doing something and an interruption came and invited me to do something else. Consider this alternative. Meet this person. Make this decision. Our lives are a constant series of interruptions and therefore our lives seem to be a series of people or events messing with our plans. Yet most of our relationships are the results of being interrupted by somebody wanting into our circle, or our privacy, or our personal forts. Sometimes they sneak in without our wanting them and sometimes they crash in to get our attention.
God has caused some mighty interruptions in the lives of people whom he calls to do something. Abraham is interrupted in his life in Haran and is invited to set out on a journey to the unknown land of Canaan. Moses is interrupted in his settled down life of tending the sheep of his father-in-law Jethro and is sent back into Egypt from which he fled. The lives of Joseph and Mary, Elizabeth and Zechariah, are interrupted. Jesus is a mighty interruption in the lives of the Apostles as well the Pharisees.
Whether the interruptions in our lives are invitations depends on how open the doors of our hearts or our thinking are. Interruptions are invitations to the degree we allow surprises to alter our well-scheduled lives. There is always more going on than is going on. There is always a knocker behind the knocking, and our lives will be changed if we let him in.
Today is a bit of an interruption of our ordinary time. It's an invitation to celebrate a "Little Christmas". It is the birth of the sixth-month older cousin of Jesus. There were some who believed John to be the Christ, but the Gospels make it quite clear that his destiny was to be the forerunner.
There is nothing known or written about any friendship Jesus and John enjoyed after their womb-to-womb meeting during Mary's visitation to John's mother, Elizabeth. John is pictured as having a light to shine toward and upon Jesus, but as the Evangelist John writes in his first chapter, "He was not the light, but came to bear witness to the light" (John 1:8).
But he is important because he was foretold in Scripture. Malachi, the last book of prophecy in our Old Testament, announces from the Lord that "I am sending my messenger to prepare the way before me, and the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his Temple." He will purify the sons of Levi; he will renew the priesthood so that they can offer the sacrifices to the Lord in righteousness. There's no doubt that the Gospels see John as the messenger who will prepare the way of the Lord's Christ. And the announcement that the Malachi's messenger was coming and the prioesthood would be renewed was made to Zechariah while he was serving as a priest in the Temple. Since the priesthood was a family business, this also means that Zechariah's son, John, was of a priestly lineage. And he was the proclaimer of righteousness.
It was precisely because John was seen as the fulfillment of prophecy that there was some confusion in the early Church, and perhaps also in contemporary Judaism, about whether he was the Christ. Notice in today's Second Reading from The Acts of the Apostles a little historical review about how God has been preparing for the light of Jesus. Here too John is saying of himself that He is not the Christ. This apparently continued to be a controversy in the early days after the resurrection of Jesus.
The Gospel has to do with the birth of John, but even more with his naming. Elizabeth and Zechariah are advanced in age and so the lack of fertility was seen to be a kind of curse. She is found to be pregnant and when her time for deliverance arrives he is born. All come to marvel and give God praise. The neighbors are from the hill country of Judea. They expect his naming at the circumcision to follow custom and that the boy will be named after his father or grandfather. His father had been struck speechless by God for his questioning. So his mother announces his name to be John and his father is given a tablet and writes the same. Upon this writing, his speech returns and he gives thanks and praise to God in the song known as the Benedictus, that is sung as the gospel canticle in Morning Prayer.
Although the birth of Jesus has not yet taken place, Zechariah sing as though it had. "God has visited and redeemed his people." Zechariah sings that the birth of John means that the time of the Messiah is near, the one who shall redeem Israel from its enemies so that they are free to serve or worship their God without fear. And Zechariah's son will go before the Lord to prepare his way so that the people will understand their deliverance when it dawns upon them.
After the naming, John grows up and is the man in waiting for God's time to be fulfilled.
Luke deliberately makes strong parallels between the births of John and Jesus. Being barren and being a virgin allows for a divine intervention. Gabriel appears to Zechariah announcing the "good news" of his being given a son. The annunciation to Mary of her having a son is presented by an angel and both are accompanied by prophetic words about their names and their missions. Both Mary and Zechariah have the same questions about how this was going to be since advanced age and Mary's not being wedded, would prevent conception. Mary is given comfort and a kind of proof by her hearing that Elizabeth is with child for now six months and Mary can visit her and see for herself. Zechariah leaves his holy duties in the temple without the power to speak.
Names are given and all the people returned home. The neighbors leave, here as with the shepherds in Bethlehem, returning to their homes and work praising God, marveling, and wondering at what they have seen and heard. Both Mary and Zechariah are presented as singing out a blessing of God for all that God has done for Israel and for all the nations.
John is born to be the front-runner, the advance-publicity man for the coming on stage of Jesus. We are the co-runners who have been seen and received His Light and now extend that Light to the ends of our neighborhoods, the end of our abilities, and to the end of our time. Zechariah, Elizabeth, Joseph and Mary were all little people in their times, but all were born to do mighty things in their time for all time. We are "servants" too whom the Lord has known before we were born and in our life time we prepare the coming of Christ into our world according to our individual gifts and history. John was born to make known the coming of the Christ. We are born to remember with thanksgiving his life and death, resurrection and ascension. We are born to announce that Christ lives and gives new births and new lives to all the nations. Our announcement is an interruption. But it is an interriuption that comes with an invitation extended to those whose hearts and minds are open to receive it and act upon it.
"Through the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high will visit us." (Luke 1:78)