Interestingly in the Gospel of Luke we’re never told about John the Baptist.
I’m playing with words here, of course, because Luke most certainly tells us about John the Baptist, but instead of referring to him by the Baptist name we’re most familiar with, he consistently refers to him by the name of his father - Zechariah.
(None of the other Gospel writers do this, by the way.)
For example, he says ...
“During the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John Son of Zechariah in the wilderness.”
John, Son of Zechariah.
This might sound like an insignificant thing to point out during Advent. Like, why not talk about the shepherds or the wise men or the baby Jesus or Mary and Joseph or angels or something more “Christmas-y”? Who cares what Luke refers to him as? John the Baptist, John the Son of Zechariah - same dude who did the same thing.
What’s the big deal?
I’m in this pop-up community on Facebook that’s sponsored by Homebrewed Christianity called “Make Advent Great Again” where lots of theologians, thinkers, pastors, priests, etc. come together each week to talk to us about various aspects of Christmas. One of those people is Dr. Alexander Shaia who came onto the What If Project podcast a month or so ago. You might remember that he wrote a book called “The Four Gospel Journey” where he talks about how the 4 Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) are an illustration of the life cycle of every human being:
Matthew - How Do We Face Change?
Mark - How Do We Move Through Suffering?
John - How Do We Receive Joy?
Luke / Acts - How Do We Mature Into Service?
Anyways, in one of his posts this week he talked about how Luke doesn’t refer to John as the Baptist, but as the Son of Zechariah and that this is important because Zechariah was a temple priest and (therefore) as the son of a priest, John would have been considered Jewish Royalty; and with royalty comes things like ...
Upper class status.
And so by being the son of Zechariah the Priest, John was welcome to spend his days in the temple, with the elite … as the son of a priest you might say that John would have been afforded certain rights that were only given to a select few.
The Gospels tell us that John spent his days NOT in the temple, NOT with the elite, NOT with the upper class, NOT making money, NOT exercising any kind of power, but out in the wilderness where he served the crowds by baptizing them and telling them about a New King who was coming and bringing with Him a New Kingdom.
Yes, John Son of Zechariah laid his royalty aside and in a sense made himself an outcast so that he could be a servant to the world, much of which was oppressed and outcast by the systems of both Temple and Empire ... a world that was in desperate need of hope.
By birth John deserved to be served.
He chose, instead, to be a servant.
In his book “Devotions for Advent” Richard Rohr says it like this ...
“John the Baptizer is the strangest combination of conviction and humility, morality and mysticism, radical prophecy and living in the present. This son of the priestly temple class does his own thing down by the riverside; he is a man born into privilege who dresses like a hippie; he is a superstar who is willing to let go of everything; creating his own water baptism and then saying that what really matters is the baptism of Spirit and fire.”
... A superstar who let go of everything.
And I tell you this because I think it’s an important thing to remember during the Christmas season. Often times Christmas becomes all about getting things ...
The presents I get.
The presents other people get.
The gifts I need to get so that I can give to other people, so that other people can get things from me.
... Especially in North America, Christmas often times takes on a life of its own as it becomes a two-headed monster of greed and consumerism.
Luke tells the story of John Son of Zechariah, though, maybe to remind us that this time of year isn’t about remembering who I need to buy gifts for or what gifts I hope to get, but is about following in the footsteps of John who (very much like Jesus, mind you) laid His royalty aside and made himself an outcast so that He could be a servant to the people of his world.
He wasn’t looking to GET anything.
He was looking to GIVE everything in service to those around him.
We’re almost halfway through Advent with just over 2 weeks left until Christmas and so I wonder, what would it look like for you to lay your desires aside this Christmas season and make yourself a servant to those around you?
Who in your life ...
At your workplace.
In your community.
In your church.
In your circle of friends.
In your circle of enemies.
... Needs something this year? Maybe they lost their job? Maybe they’re in the middle of a divorce? Maybe they lost a loved one? Maybe they can’t afford a Christmas dinner? What would it look like for you to reach out to that person or that family (perhaps even anonymously) to be a John Son of Zechariah to them? To help lift off of their shoulders whatever oppressive feeling or circumstance that’s been crushing them?
Give it a try.
Much love, and Merry Christmas.