The Gospel of St. Luke begins with two “annunciation” stories followed by two “nativity” stories. They are placed side by side in the Gospel inviting us to compare the two stories. As we do so, we notice that while Jesus was announced to Mary in the privacy of her home, John’s birth was announced in the Temple of Jerusalem. While Mary gave birth to Jesus in a stable because there was no place for him, Elizabeth gave birth to John in her home surrounded by her relatives and friends. We know John’s lineage as the Gospel tells us that Zechariah is a descendant of the house of Abijah and Elizabeth is from the lineage of Aaron. No such information about Mary is given in this Gospel.
Luke is very clearly showing us that these two stories, while related and intertwined, are traveling in opposite directions. John’s birth is announced in the Temple, but he ends us living in the desert. Jesus’s birth takes place in a stable, but he rises to the point that he can teach the elders of Jerusalem by the time he is twelve years old and is found in the Temple by Mary and Joseph.
However, there is one trait that Jesus and John share. They both know who they are. Each of them knows that they are servants of God’s will. John’s greatness does not lie in any deeds that he has done. His greatness lies in the fact that he has made himself disponable to the will of God. Like Jesus, he clearly states through his life that he follows not his own will but the Will of God.
In the first reading from the Prophet Isaiah, we hear Isaiah say of Israel, “For now the LORD has spoken who formed me as his servant from the womb that Jacob may be brought back to him and Israel gathered to him.” John allowed God to use him. In that fact alone is his glory. Because he allowed God to use him, God has lifted him up. Of him Jesus later said, “Among those born of women, no one is greater than John.”
If we can learn anything from John it would be this. He did not exalt himself but acknowledged that he was the forerunner of the Christ. We too need to acknowledge that God is the giver of all our gifts and that we must use them in God’s service.
Fr. Lawrence Jagdfeld, O.F.M., Administrator