Today is the feast of the Nativity of John the Baptist. (Incidentally, since John is six months older than Jesus, I suppose that means we're about six months away from Christmas.)
John is an interesting fellow. We don't know a lot about him, but we know more about him than we do many people mentioned in the bible.
His birth was a surprise to his parents. They were old. I'm not sure what this meant in biblical times. Was Elizabeth actually elderly - or just beyond the normal child-bearing years? It doesn't matter much. The point was that no one expected Elizabeth and Zachariah to have a child. Including themselves. But a messenger from God comes to Zachariah and tells him that he and his wife are going to have a baby. He is openly skeptical and doubtful and thus is struck mute until the event should unfold.
This has always seemed a little unfair to me. After all, Zachariah had reason on his side. There was no reason to suspect that after all this time Elizabeth would finally become pregnant. And, Mary also questioned. She asked the angel how this thing would happen to her since she knew no man. Also a reasonable question. I suppose it was all a matter of tone.
Regardless, Zachariah is mute for the next nine months, regaining his voice when he lets the assembled gathering at his son's circumcision know that the boy's name is John.
And during Elizabeth's pregnancy, of course, Mary visits, and the babe in Elizabeth's womb leaps with recognition of the Lord.
After John's birth though, we don't see him again until he is a grown man. Did he and Jesus ever meet? They were related after all. How long did his parents live? They were old when he was born. Was he orphaned young? Some suspect he went and lived with a group of Essenes in the desert.
Whatever he did, he eventually ended up preaching in the desert and baptizing people in the Jordan. He must have been a pretty powerful presence - people suspected that he was the Messiah.
But he wasn't the Messiah. He was only preparing the way.
And he knew it.
That's the interesting thing. John did not attempt to take any glory for himself. He did not try to make himself important. People were following him; flocking to him. It would have been easy to start to believe that they were coming all because of him, and that he was a person of great importance. And when Jesus appeared on the scene, John knew to back off. Because he knew that what was important was his mission and his message.
And really - isn't that's what's important for all of us. Who we are doesn't matter as much as the message we give and live.
John's message was that the Messiah was coming.
Our message should be that the Messiah has come. And he is still among us in his own way.
John did a wonderful job of spreading his message. How are we doing spreading ours?