What will this child turn out to be?
I have always loved this line from Luke’s account of the Birth of John the Baptist. The reader knows just who he will turn out to be. And yet, I am always caught up in a feeling of expectancy and possibilities. An earlier line in the account kindles a similar feeling of expectancy for me:
The time came for Elizabeth to have her child, and she gave birth to a son; and when her neighbours and relations heard that the Lord had shown her so great a kindness, they shared her joy.
This longed-for child is already surrounded by a network of love and joy. I’d like to think that it is from this implicit place of security that John was able to make his radical choices and follow a path that would eventually lead to martyrdom. No parent would wish this for their child, and yet, there Elizabeth and Zechariah stand as models of righteousness and faith. Their trust in the power of God’s promises was truly tested.
I have to confess to being a little unnerved by many of the portrayals of John the Baptist that I have seen on films etc. There is always an element of the ‘wild man’ about him. And the puzzling detail of surviving on locusts and wild honey can make it very hard to identify with him on a human level. (Now the leather belt and sandals are a different matter, as they are part of my everyday wardrobe!) I can however identify with the clarity of his preaching. That one word, REPENT, change of heart, is the essence of the Benedictine vow of Conversio Morum. It’s a daily call to reorientation and to making space for God. It’s through this vow that I have the opportunity to grow a little more each day. In truth, we never stop growing and never stop asking of ourselves: ‘What will this child turn out to be?’ And, thankfully, what’s not always clear to us, is always clear to God.