I’m tired to death of self-help, formulaic Christianity. For the last 25 years, I have sat through sermons and conferences, and read books and articles that imply a cause and effect relationship between Christian expectations and my personal happiness and fulfillment.
We’ve been force-fed Christian steps to better health, more successful businesses, stronger interpersonal relationships and unlimited joy. And even though these steps never exactly deliver, we keep showing up to receive more.
But when I stop and think about John the Baptist, I realize that we’re making all of this nonsense up.
John’s auspicious origin story
When it comes to birth stories in the New Testament, John almost has Jesus beat. Sure, Jesus had the born of a virgin thing going for him, but his whole story happened pretty inconspicuously.
John’s birth, on the other hand, came with a big splash. His priestly father, Zacharias, was visited during his temple service by an angel who announces that he and his elderly wife, Elizabeth, are going to have a child. The angel tells him that this child will be a predecessor for the Lord, and turn Israel’s heart back to God. When an ancient Zacharias shows a moment of skepticism about how this could even happen, he’s struck mute.
It turns out that Elizabeth does get pregnant. During her pregnancy, she’s visited by an expectant Mary. John’s fetus leaps in response to Jesus in Mary’s womb, and Elizabeth is filled with the Spirit — instantly recognizing that Mary is carrying the Messiah.
When it comes time to circumcise Elizabeth’s new son, the priest and family want to name him after his father. Elizabeth objects and, in keeping with the angel’s instructions, says that he will be called “John.” Of course, everyone argues with her because she’s just his mother, so what does she know? Zacharias requests a writing tablet and writes, “His name is John.” And immediately he can speak again.
Then Luke tells us:
All the neighbors were filled with awe, and throughout the hill country of Judea people were talking about all these things. Everyone who heard this wondered about it, asking, “What then is this child going to be?” For the Lord’s hand was with him. —Luke 1:65
Nothing like entering the world with the sky-high expectations of your entire community.