Homily for the Vigil of the Birth of St. John the Baptist
Eleanor Suther, OSB | June 23, 2021
His name is John. The name means “God is gracious.” John is a miracle child…born of Elizabeth who was long past the normal child bearing age. Naming a child often reflects the hopes of the parents, hope for the future. For Elizabeth and Zachary’s friends and neighbors, that would mean carrying on the family traditions. But a new hope has come for Elizabeth and Zachary.
You can probably remember another miracle child, Isaac, born of Sarah, the wife of Abraham. You will remember that his name means “laugh” reflecting Sarah’s reaction when her pregnancy was predicted by the angel. God favored Sarah and Abraham with a hope completely beyond their imagining. It was a hope for all their descendants, a covenant that lasted for generations, down to the present day.
Another name that shows up in the infancy narratives of both John the Baptist and Jesus is “Gabriel” the angel who announces to Zachary the birth of John, as well as to Mary, the birth of Jesus. We first meet Gabriel, whose name means “God is my strength”, in the book of Daniel with its apocalyptic visions of the coming of the “Son of Man.” It is Gabriel who helps Daniel to find courage and meaning in the face of the disasters that were coming upon Israel from the various warring nations seeking to dominate the Middle East. And it was the Book of Daniel that gave the people of Israel hope despite the persecutions of Greece and then Rome at the time of John’s birth.
So the evangelist Luke has set the stage for the new covenant. Our gracious God who has been faithful from generation to generation has another surprise. The promise, the covenant to which God is always faithful, reaches beyond the descendants of Abraham and Sarah. It reaches out to all who are baptized, to all God’s children. All of us, are now Abraham’s heirs. Sarah will laugh as she sees all her hopes magnified over and over.
God will help us to find hope, wisdom and courage to face the challenges of our times. For God is gracious. God is our strength.
God rescues lowly Israel,
Recalling the promise of mercy,
The promise made to our ancestors
To Abraham’s heirs forever.