Mini-Studies for the
Vigil of the Birth of John the Baptist

First Reading: Jeremiah 1:4-10

4 Now the word of YHWH came to me, saying, 5 “Before I formed you in the belly, I knew you. Before you came forth out of the womb, I sanctified you. I have appointed you a prophet to the nations.” 6 Then I said, “Ah, Lord YHWH! Behold, I don’t know how to speak; for I am a child.”

7 But YHWH said to me, “Don’t say, ‘I am a child;’ for to whoever I shall send you, you shall go, and whatever I shall command you, you shall speak. 8 Don’t be afraid because of them; for I am with you to deliver you,” says YHWH. 9 Then YHWH put forth his hand, and touched my mouth; and YHWH said to me, “Behold, I have put my words in your mouth. 10 Behold, I have this day set you over the nations and over the kingdoms, to pluck up and to break down and to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant.”

World English Bible

Jeremiah preached before and during the fall of Jerusalem to Babylon. According to tradition, he was exiled to Egypt and died as a martyr.

This passage describes the call of Jeremiah. Like many of the other prophets, Jeremiah is called by God in four steps: 1) commission of the prophet by God, 2) objection of the prophet, 3) God's reassurance to the prophet, and 4) God's sign to the prophet. Verses 4-5 describe the first step of the process, the commission of Jeremiah, 1:6 described the objection. God's reassurance and sign (steps 3 & 4) that Jeremiah was given in a vision would wait until 1:16-18.

Jeremiah's call speaks to our call as Christians. We are all called by God from the moment of our creation in the womb for one purpose: life with God. Witness through our words and actions is our "yes" to God's call. While we might not be called to be an international sign like Jeremiah, we are called to make a difference in our world. [4-5]

We might object to God’s call, but that does not lessen it’s impact. His hand is upon us. We are to speak his words to others. While we might be afraid, he will not allow us to be overwhelmed. God is with us. [7-10]

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Second Reading: 1 Peter 1:8-12

8 (JESUS CHRIST) whom having not seen you love, in whom not seeing, trusting, you rejoice with an unspeakable joy, (a joy) having been glorified, 9 (you) obtaining the (complete) end of [your] faith, the salvation of souls.

10 The prophets, the (ones) having prophesied about the grace (which was) for you, sought and searched (information) concerning this salvation, 11 searching who or what sort of event was made clear by the Spirit of CHRIST in their midst, prophesying the suffering of CHRIST and, after these (sufferings), the glory (of the resurrection). 12 (Messages) were revealed to the (prophets) that they were to keep giving service not toward themselves but to you, (messages) which were now declared to you through the (one) having evangelized you [in] the Holy Spirit having been sent from heaven, (messages) which the angels yearned to stoop down (and witness).

What is the end game of faith? 1 Peter addressed this topic. The goal of faith is a relationship with Jesus Christ, the unseen object of love, faith, and joy. This relationship is the salvation of our souls.

Who foresaw this relationship? According to the author, the prophets. The author does not indicate whether these prophets were found in the Scriptures or in the Christian community, but the context seemed to indicate the former. The prophets of the Scriptures foresaw not only the Christ, his suffering, death and resurrection (1:11), but also the salvation he brought (1:10b). What they prophesied serves us; it is the message that is declared to us now by Spirit-filled evangelizers; it is the message that the angels longed to hear. The prophecy and the message are nothing more than life in Christ, a deeply personal relationship with our Lord.

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Gospel: Luke 1: 5-17

5 In the days of King Herod, there was a certain priest, Zachariah by name, from (the) division of Abijah, and his wife (was) from the daughters of Aaron, Elizabeth by name. 6 Both were righteous in the presence of God, walking (through out life) in the commandments and the ordinances of the Lord without fault. 7 (There) was no child for them, because Elizabeth was barren and both were advanced in their days. 8 It happened during his service as priest before God, in the order of his division, 9 according to the tradition of the priest, he obtained (by lot the privilege) to make an incense offering, having entered the Temple of the Lord. 10 A great number of people were praying outside at the hour of incense offering. 11 An angel of the Lord appeared to him to the right of the altar of incense offering. 12 Having seen (the angel) Zachariah was troubled and fear fell upon him. 13 The angel said to him, “Do not fear, Zechariah, because your prayer was heard and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son and you will call his name ‘John.’ 14 He will be a joy and gladness to you, and many will rejoice at his birth. 15 He will be great before [the] Lord, and he will not drink wine or strong intoxicants, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit even in his mother’s womb, 16 and he will return many sons of Israel to the Lord their God. 17 He will go before HIM in the spirit and the power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers toward the children and the disobedient to the (practical) wisdom of the righteous, to make ready for the Lord a people having been prepared.”

1:5 Luke pointed out that both Zachariah and Elizabeth were from the tribe of Aaron. Since Mary was Elizabeth’s cousin, Luke implied Mary was from a priestly family. Jesus was the son of God through Adam in the Luke’s genealogy of Joseph (3:23-38).

1:11 “An angel of the Lord...” The divine messenger identified himself as Gabriel (1:20, not listed here), the angel who appeared to Daniel in order to explain one of his visions (Daniel 8), and the angel who appeared to Mary in order to announce the birth of the Messiah (Luke 1:26-38). According to tradition, Gabriel appeared to be second only to Michael in the hierarchy of heavenly beings; in the apocryphal book 1 Enoch, Gabriel interceded for the faithful and punished the evil. According to Christian tradition, Gabriel would blow the heavenly trumpet to mark the end of the world (1 Thessalonians 4:16, Matthew 24:31).

1:15 “He will be great before [the] Lord, and he will not drink wine or strong intoxicants...” This verse echoed the birth of Samson and his Nazirite vow to be sober and celibate. The appearance of the angel and the announcement of a birth also paralleled the birth of Samson (see Judges 13).

1:17 “ to turn the hearts of the fathers toward the children” This is a loosely based on Malachi 4:6a. “He will turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers.” (World English Bible) The intent of the verse is the reconciliation between the generations.

Luke was a highly intelligent, very elegant writer. His Greek is impeccable. His subtlety is easily missed. He developed a narrative for the reader to follow, then he twisted the theme to reveal his true intent. The full story of Zechariah in the Temple was a case in point. Here was a righteous Jew, a priest in the line of Aaron, whose prayer was answered. And, yet, he could not believe the word of the Lord, so he would become mute until he confirmed the angel’s message (1:18-22, not listed here).

Zechariah and Elizabeth were righteous, God fearing Jews who could not bear children. The text indicated Elizabeth was beyond child bearing years (1:7). The irony could not be missed. At the time of Jesus, popular opinion held the righteous received God’s blessings, including children. Yet, this righteous couple could not have offspring. Their situation echoed the old age dilemma of Abraham and Sarah (Genesis 18:1-15) and the barrenness of Hannah (1 Samuel 1:1-20).

The tension between righteousness and elderly barrenness set up the appearance of the angel Gabriel in the Temple (1:20), during Zechariah’s time for incense offering (1:8-9, 11) (Luke introduced the crowd at the time of the offering in 1:10 so they could react to Zechariah’s mute condition after the encounter.) Zechariah reacted with fear, but the angel counseled calm (1:12-13a). The angel’s announcement would be Good News to the elderly man, for he would not only have a son; this son would ‘great in the eyes of God’ and a prophet in the line of Samson, one with the Spirit even before birth (1:15). The angel went on to describe the work of John, a messenger of repentance in the spirit of Elijah (1:17). The scene and the message harkened back to the great leaders from Israel’s past and foreshadowed the adult ministry of the Baptist.