It seems like the closer God comes to us, the harder it is for us to receive Him with faith. God as an abstract idea which may or may not exist is something most people are willing to consider. God the distant Creator who set order, beauty, and perfection in the natural world is still fairly safe and edifying. The God who reveals by His words the same standards of justice and righteousness that we agree with is comforting. The God who openly rebukes and condemns wrongdoing by the mouth of His prophets arrives at an uncomfortable level of proximity however – especially when we ourselves are guilty. So long as a prophet is personally removed from the people to whom he addresses God’s Word, a comfortable level of anonymity can still be maintained. But when the prophet is God Himself, and the people He is sent to – preaching and teaching – were His equals and superiors throughout His childhood that is mind blowing. Any degree of separation between religion and human life is destroyed. Immediate religion is offensive – especially when we lack faith. It is offensive because the holiness of the invisible God seems to require some degree of separation between what we are and what God is. Immediate religion is even more offensive when we lack faith because it forces our conscience out of hiding and sets before it a Word or judgement whose authority we would like to reject but cannot do so comfortably.
Birth of John the Baptist
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.