When the time arrived for Elizabeth to have her child she gave birth to a son. Her neighbors and relatives heard that the Lord had shown his great mercy toward her, and they rejoiced with her. When they came on the eighth day to circumcise the child, they were going to call him Zechariah after his father, but his mother said in reply, “No. He will be called John.”
But they answered her, “There is no one among your relatives who has this name.” So they made signs, asking his father what he wished him to be called.
He asked for a tablet and wrote, “John is his name,” and all were amazed. Immediately his mouth was opened, his tongue freed, and he spoke blessing God. Then fear came upon all their neighbors, and all these matters were discussed throughout the hill country of Judea.
All who heard these things took them to heart, saying, “What, then, will this child be? For surely the hand of the Lord was with him.”
I can imagine that the Elizabeth and Zechariah’s neighbors probably suspected that John himself was their long awaited Messiah. His birth, and the months leading up to it, was so striking, so filled with miracles and strangeness. It was all very public as well. According to this reading, it was “discussed throughout the hill country of Judea.”
In contrast, Jesus’s birth was a very silent affair. It was preceded by several miracles, but each of these were private rather than public. While John was at the center of his town’s gossip, Jesus was conceived and born into quiet intimacy–and stark poverty.
I feel as if the differences in the circumstances of Jesus’s and John’s births are significant. It was almost necessary for the people to see the miracle of John’s birth. It made them expect great things from him. “What, then, will this child be?” The people of Judea pondered. “For surely the hand of the Lord was with him.” This early fame probably helped John in his calling to pave the way for Jesus. It also helped to stir the hearts of the people in Israel, to prepare them for the coming of the Messiah by giving them things to ponder.
On the other hand, Jesus’s quiet birth teaches us a lot about what kind of God he is. God was born in a manger to teach us the quiet beauty in poverty. To instruct us on the inherent dignity of every human person. To illuminate for us the importance of detachment from worldly possessions and worldly esteem. To educate us on humility. To tutor us on love.
What are your thoughts about the differences between Jesus’s and John’s births? Do you think it is significant? How so?