John the Baptist’s birth heralds the end of the Old Covenant and the beginning of the New. Those who were full of speech and of words will become silent. Those Pharisees and Scribes, the teachers of the Law, they will all become silent and mute as the Voice begins to speak. John the Baptist is the Voice, and his birth gives voice to those who who had lost hope. Zechariah’s first word after his long silence is “John.” This name means “Yahweh’s graciousness.” Zechariah’s silence of hopelessness is finally broken when he speaks over his son the grace of God. His tongue is untied only to speak God’s grace into the life of his son. God has commanded him to name his son John, and in doing so He liberates Zechariah from the silence induced by his hopelessness and lack of trust.
The image of snatching people out of the fire from Jude’s letter is quite powerful. Salvation is a gift that quenches the fire that burns us whether our conscience realizes it or not. Baptism is this water that both refreshes our soul with divine life, and quenches the fire of condemnation. Those who ruled over the affairs of the temple were afraid of losing their power or status. They were not prepared to admit the truth because they were more interested in their positions of influence. It is unfortunate to see people who prefer trying to remain in control than acknowledging that their right to remain in power depends on their real authority. Jesus has real Authority, so he is not intimidated by their questions. He instead turned them back to John’s baptism of repentance. Jesus’ authority to save is absolute. He wants even to save these temple authorities who have lost sight of the essential. He would save them from the fire they ought to feel burning their blinded consciences. When any answer we may give to a question would result in something disagreeable, we may choose at that point to walk away or submit to the truth.
The hidden figures of the Visitation reveal a great mystery. Jesus and St. John the Baptist are both powerfully present and active well before they are even born. For St. John the Baptist this is a great grace – it was by no human quality or disposition that he came to know and rejoice at the voice of the mother of his Savior. The divine gift of prophesy and the motion of the Holy Spirit are the only possible explain for John’s in utero dance of jubilation. The most important events in our own personal history of salvation are similar: as glad and as free as we were to come to know our savior in a more meaningful way, it was always, “a total God move.” Even the gift of prophesy which helps us to see the way God is moving in the world in a mysteriously clear way is still God moving first our mind. We can cleverly attribute the text of the Psalm 138 as Jesus speaking to John the Baptist,