Early on the morning of December 13, I sat beneath Christmas lights in my dimly-lit living room, editing one of my final papers. My phone was beside me so I could instantly check any updates about my sister-in-law, who was going to give birth to my niece at any moment.
Shortly after 6 a.m., we got word that a baby girl had been born. Despite the early hour, the messages of joy and congratulations came pouring into the group message. No one had been allowed to wait in the hospital to congratulate them in person, but like Elizabeth’s neighbors and relatives in today’s Gospel, we all rejoiced with them from afar, eagerly waiting to see a picture and learn the baby’s name.
The birth of John the Baptist brought about even more mystery and anticipation. Upon hearing his non-traditional name and witnessing the miraculous restoration of Zechariah’s speech, “fear came upon all their neighbors.” In the face of the unknown, what had started with rejoicing became tempered with confusion and anxiety, as everyone wondered, “What, then, will this child be?”
I have become well accustomed to these types of mood swings this year. My weeks can be punctuated with some of my highest highs and some of my lowest lows. In the face of the unknown, I also often jump to fear and anxiety, rather than holding onto hope and joy.
Yet, in the midst of their fear, the people in today’s Gospel believed, “surely the hand of the Lord was with him.” They didn’t know who John would grow up to be, but they believed in the Lord’s activity in his life.
As we prepare for Christmas in two short days, we don’t know what the next year will bring. I pray that these accounts of miraculous and confusing births – John the Baptist and Jesus – will remind us to look first toward hope and possibility, rather than to fear and anxiety. And in the moments when fear does take hold of us, I pray we know that even then, the Lord is present and active in our midst.
I originally wrote this reflection for the Boston College School of Theology and Ministry’s Advent series, “Maranatha: God With Us, As We Are”