See, I am sending my messenger to prepare the way before me, and the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple. The messenger of the covenant in whom you delight — indeed, he is coming, says the Lord of hosts.
But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears? For he is like a refiner’s fire and like fullers’ soap; he will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the descendants of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, until they present offerings to the Lord in righteousness. Then the offering of Judah and Jerusalem will be pleasing to the Lord as in the days of old and as in former years.
Look, I will send you the prophet Elijah before the great and terrible day of the Lord comes. He will turn the hearts of parents to their children and the hearts of children to their parents, so that I will not come and strike the land with a curse.
Now the time came for Elizabeth to give birth, and she bore a son. Her neighbours and relatives heard that the Lord had shown his great mercy to her, and they rejoiced with her. On the eighth day they came to circumcise the child, and they were going to name him Zechariah after his father. But his mother said, "No; he is to be called John." They said to her, "None of your relatives has this name." Then they began motioning to his father to find out what name he wanted to give him. He asked for a writing tablet and wrote, "His name is John." And all of them were amazed. Immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue freed, and he began to speak, praising God. Fear came over all their neighbours, and all these things were talked about throughout the entire hill country of Judea. All who heard them pondered them and said, "What then will this child become?" For, indeed, the hand of the Lord was with him.
The naming of a child can often be a source of tension in a family. Different people will have different ideas about a good name for the child; at the end of the day, of course, it is the choice of the parents. The gospel says relatives and neighbours expected Zechariah and Elizabeth to follow convention by calling their new-born child Zechariah, after his father. However, Zechariah and Elizabeth knew that this was not the name that God wanted the child to have.. At this particular moment in history, God was not following convention, but was about to do something new. Zechariah and Elizabeth’s child would be different to other children. The relatives and neighbours were right to ask the question, "What will this child turn out to be?" This child’s calling was to prepare people for the coming of someone who would be even greater than himself, someone whose name would be Emmanuel, God-with-us. God was working in a new way; God was in the process of making a new covenant with his people and with all of humanity. It is this new and wonderful moment in God’s dealings with humanity that we celebrate at Christmas, and it should never cease to fill us with excitement and gratitude.
Christians have seen in John the Baptist the messenger, promised in the prophet Malachi, whose task was to prepare the way so that "the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple." In other words, John was the messenger of the covenant, now offered to us all, in the Jesus in whom we delight. John is honoured in all four Gospels, for his service of preparing hearts and minds to receive the message of Jesus. Luke, above all, highlights how John was received with joy — as a great gift not just to his parents and relatives, but to the humble people generally. A spirit of joyfulness and praise runs through all of the story surrounding John’s birth. And are our hearts open to John’s message? Does the Lord whom he proclaimed wish to enter our lives, our homes, our world? The answer is clear and unmistakable: Yes, He does! How do we know? Simply by listening to what God is saying to us in the Scriptures, and in our community gathered in prayer.
Centuries before the birth of Jesus, the prophet Isaiah described the Messiah or Saviour as Someone who would live among His people and be one of them. The very name given to the Messiah points this out: "Emmanuel," which means "God is with us." In today’s reading from Isaiah, we are reminded that the Lord wishes to live among us. "Therefore the Lord himself will give you this sign: the virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall name him Emmanuel. " What was foretold by Isaiah came to be fulfilled as we hear in today’s Gospel, "All this took place to fulfill what the Lord has said through the prophet: Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel, which means God is with us."
The promised Messiah or Saviour is none other than God, who in his Son Jesus took on our human nature, became one like us in all things except sin and dwells among us. "And the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us" (cf. Jn 1:14). Does the Lord wish to enter our lives, our homes, our world? Indeed, He does! He did that on the first Christmas and He continues to do that if we let Him.