I love the story of the angelic announcement to Zechariah that he and Elizabeth are going to have a child. The angel says to him, “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son….”

Given the age of the parents – seemingly well beyond the age when it was possible for Elizabeth to give birth – how many years do you think it had been since they gave up praying for a child? I’ll bet it was several years, at least – perhaps decades. And along comes God telling them to expect the answer to that long-defunct prayer. Not a thought, no apology, that he isn’t ‘on time’. It is really amusing.

And the next part moves me greatly: “He will be a joy and delight to you and many will rejoice at his birth.”

The person of John the Baptist evokes much content for all of us, I’m sure. He was the last, great Old Testament prophet. The one who came in the spirit and power of Elijah. The one who introduced Christ to Israel. Fearless. Uncompromising.

We also know  – sketchily, at least – some major events of his last years. Particularly we know that he died a martyr’s death while still a young man.

What we don’t tend to think about was that he was a son given to childless parents to be a joy and delight to them. And this, also, was an important part of God’s plan. I am guessing because of their age when John was born they did not see his adult years. They would not have known of his murder, nor was it foretold to them as it was to Mary: “And a sword shall pierce your own soul, also.”

They did not ‘get’ from John elements which every parent wants when they have a child. They did not see him enter the vocation for which God had created him. He did not marry. He did not give them descendants. And, of course, God knew all of this from the beginning.

But it did not thwart the fact that John was given to them for ‘joy and delight’. The gift of this child in and of itself was greater, to God, than the eventual tragedies He foresaw.

These words are Hannah’s after God gave her Samuel. But I’m sure the sentiments were also Zechariah and Elizabeth’s:
“ For this child I prayed, and the Lord has granted me my petition that I made to him.
Therefore I have lent him to the Lord. As long as he lives, he is lent to the Lord.”