As we enter the gloriousness of the Advent season, trimmed in holly and laced in traditional carols, let us look back some 21 centuries ago to that distant time of wonder, when cousins Elisabeth and Mary were both with child. After all, the complete Christmas story begins with another birth, before that of Jesus, that being the birth of John the Baptist about six months beforehand. During what was deemed “the fullness of time.”
The scene begins at the house of Zacharias, and then moves to the temple, in a city of Juda, according to the Gospel of St. Luke … well, sort of.
We’ll begin with Luke 1:5, with Helps:
There was in the days of Herod, the king of Judaea, a certain priest named Zacharias, of the course of Abia: and his wife was of the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elisabeth. And they were both righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless, or at least, that’s what was carved upon the quarterboard above their garage.
And they had no child, because that Elisabeth was barren, and they both were now well stricken in years (Zacharias was 31 and Elisabeth was 29 - which was considered to be “old age” in those days, in fact, Zacharias was an AARP member). And it came to pass that Zacharias went to temple to burn incense, because it seemed the thing to do at the time, and there appeared unto him an angel of the Lord standing on the right side of the altar. And when Zacharias saw him, he was troubled, and fear fell upon him, and he blurted out, "Hey, how the heck did you get in here?!”
But the angel said unto him, Fear not Zacharias: for thy prayer is heard; and thy wife Elisabeth shall bear thee a son, and thou shalt call his name John.
"John? Really? It’s kind of a common name ‘round these parts. I thought I’d call him Ryan or Justin or Clint to make him stand out in the crowd."
To which Zacharias replied, John? Really? It’s kind of a common name ‘round these parts. I thought I’d call him Ryan or Justin or Clint to make him stand out in the crowd.
You shalt call his name John, said the angel unto him again, to which Zacharias conceded, Okay, okay, John it is…I can always nickname him Jack.
Fair enough, said the angel, and thou shalt have joy and gladness; and many shall rejoice at his birth. For he shall be great in the sight of the Lord, and shall drink neither wine nor strong drink – except during the holidays – and he shall be filled with the Holy Ghost, even from his mother’s womb.
And Zacharias said unto the angel, Whereby shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife well stricken in year, after all, she turns 30 next month.
And the angel answering said unto him, I am Gabriel, that stand in the presence of God; and am sent to speak unto thee, and to shew thee these glad tidings. And, behold, thou shalt be dumb…
I beg your pardon, replied Zacharias, I object to you calling me dumb. I have a degree from BSU – Bethlehem State University.
I mean, continued the angel, thou shalt be dumb, and not able to speak, until the day that these things shall be performed, because thou believest not my words, which shall be fulfilled in their season.
To which Zacharias replied, Believest not your words? Is “believest” even a word? I mean, really, who speaks like that… And then the angel waved his hand and Zacharias fell silent, unable to speak. And so he left the temple, and departed to his own house, all the while wondering if he locked the temple door as he suffered terribly from OCD.
And after those days his wife Elisabeth conceived, and hid herself five months … and wouldn’t even take phone calls.
Meanwhile, in Nazareth…
And in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God unto a city of Galilee, named Nazareth, to a virgin espoused to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary. And the angel said unto her, Fear not, Mary: for thou hast found favor with God. And, behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name Jesus.
To which Mary replied, Really? I was thinking more like Ryan or Justin or Clint or…
"Really? I was thinking more like Ryan or Justin or Clint or…" - Mary.The angel interrupted, saying, You shalt call his name JESUS, and he shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest: and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David: And he shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end.
Then Mary said unto the angel, Yes, this is all well and good, but he’ll finish college first.
Yes, yes, of course, responded the angel.
And Mary arose in those days, and went into the hill country with haste, into a city of Juda; and entered the house of Zacharias, and saluted Elisabeth. And it came to pass, that, when Elisabeth heard the salutation of Mary, the babe leaped in her womb.
And Elisabeth spake out with a loud voice, and said, Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb.
That’s really sweet of you to say; somebody should write that down. And the two expectant mothers chatted on from Luke 1:42 thru 1:55.To which Mary said, That’s really sweet of you to say; somebody should write that down. And the two expectant mothers chatted on from Luke 1:42 thru 1:55, saying such things as “My soul doth magnify the Lord,” and “He hath filled the hungry with good things,” and “My spirit hath rejoiced in God my Savior.” And Mary abode with Elisabeth about three months. All the while, Zacharias said not one word, either because the angel had made him dumb, or else because he couldn’t get a word in edgewise.
Now Elisabeth’s full time came that she should be delivered; and she brought forth a son. And it came to pass, that on the eighth day the neighbors came to circumcise the child; and they called him Zacharias, after the name of his father. And his mother answered and said, Not so; but he shall be called John.
Zacharias, being able to finally speak, ran down to the local pub and ordered a pint of Guinness.And the neighbors made signs to his father, how he would have him called, and he asked for a writing table, and wrote, saying, His name is John … but we’ll spell it “Jon” to be fashionable. And they all rejoiced. And Zacharias’ mouth was opened immediately, and his tongue loosed, and he spake, and praised God, and then, being able to finally speak, ran down to the local pub and ordered a pint of Guinness.
And the child grew, and waxed strong in spirit, and was in the deserts till the day of his shewing unto Israel, which displeased his parents greatly as they wanted him to go to vocational school and learn a trade.
John "Jack" Sheedy
Co-author of Cape Odd and Cape Cod Harvest, both to be found at a library near you.