Taken from New Advent
“The birth of the Precursor was announced in a most striking manner. Zachary and Elizabeth, as we learn from St. Luke, “were both just before God, walking in all the commandments and justifications of the Lord without blame; and they had no son, for that Elizabeth was barren” (1:6-7). Long they had prayed that their union might be blessed with offspring; but, now that “they were both advanced in years”, the reproach of barrenness bore heavily upon them. “And it came to pass, when he executed the priestly function in the order of his course before God, according to the custom of the priestly office, it was his lot to offer incense, going into the temple of the Lord. And all the multitude of the people was praying without, at the hour of incense. And there appeared to him an angel of the Lord, standing on the right side of the altar of incense. And Zachary seeing him, was troubled, and fear fell upon him. But the angel said to him: Fear not, Zachary, for thy prayer is heard; and they wife Elizabeth shall bear thee a son, and thou shalt call his name John: and thou shalt have joy and gladness, and many shall rejoice in his nativity. For he shall be great before the Lord; and shall drink no wine nor strong drink: and he shall be filled with the Holy Ghost, even from his mother’s womb. And he shall convert many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God. And he shall go before him in the spirit and power of Elias; that he may turn the hearts of the fathers unto the children, and the incredulous to the wisdom of the just, to prepare unto the Lord a perfect people” (1:8-17). As Zachary was slow in believing this startling prediction, the angel, making himself known to him, announced that, in punishment of his incredulity, he should be stricken with dumbness until the promise was fulfilled. “And it came to pass, after the days of his office were accomplished, he departed to his own house. And after those days, Elizabeth his wife conceived, and hid herself five months” (1:23-24).
Now during the sixth month, the Annunciation had taken place, and, as Mary had heard from the angel the fact of her cousin’s conceiving, she went “with haste” to congratulate her. “And it came to pass, that when Elizabeth heard the salutation of Mary, the infant” — filled, like the mother, with the Holy Ghost — “leaped for joy in her womb”, as if to acknowledge the presence of his Lord. Then was accomplished the prophetic utterance of the angel that the child should “be filled with the Holy Ghost even from his mother’s womb”. Now as the presence of any sin whatever is incompatible with the indwelling of the Holy Ghost in the soul, it follows that at this moment John was cleansed from the stain of original sin. When “Elizabeth’s full time of being delivered was come. . .she brought forth a son” (1:57); and “on the eighth day they came to circumcise the child, and they called him by his father’s name Zachary. And his mother answering, said: Not so, but he shall be called John. And they said to her: There is none of thy kindred that is called by this name. And they made sign to his father, how he would have him called. And demanding a writing table, he wrote, saying: John is his name. And they all wondered” (1:59-63). They were not aware that no better name could be applied (John, Hebrew; Jehohanan, i.e. “Jahweh hath mercy”) to him who, as his father prophesied, was to “go before the face of the Lord to prepare his ways; to give knowledge of salvation to his people, unto remission of their sins: through the bowels of the mercy of our God” (1:76-78). Moreover, all these events, to wit, a child born to an aged couple, Zachary’s sudden dumbness, his equally sudden recovery of speech, his astounding utterance, might justly strike with wonderment the assembled neighbours; these could hardly help asking: “What an one, think ye, shall this child be?” For the hand of the Lord was with him. (1:66).”
St. John the Baptist became the “forerunner” of Our Blessed Lord; the chosen one to prepare the people to be predisposed to recognise that the ancient prophesies announcing a Messiah was to be born among them, was now, at this very moment, coming to fruition! What a thrill must have run over these oppressed people (who were later to become the first Christians) listening to the Baptist announce this breathtaking news: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand. For this is he who was spoken of by the prophet Isaiah when he said, “The voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord; make his paths straight’”” (Matt.3 2-3).
John went out, baptising and preaching, preparing the way for the Lord’s “kingdom” to arrive, with truly staggering success. His powerful personality so filled with the fire of the Holy Spirit made a great impact and thousands (even priest and some Pharisees) rallied to hear him and follow his commands. But John made it clear from the start that, “After me comes he who is mightier than I, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. I have baptised you with water, but he will baptise you with the Holy Spirit” (Mark 1 7-8). To allay any lingering confusion among his devotees, and to confirm that he was merely God’s instrument, he announces: “A person cannot receive even one thing unless it is given him from heaven. You yourselves bear me witness, that I said, ‘I am not the Christ, but I have been sent before him.’ The one who has the bride is the bridegroom. The friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice. Therefore this joy of mine is now complete. He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3 27-30).
It can only be a hypothesis to wonder what difficulties Our Blessed Lord might have encountered at the start of his public life, had the Baptist not already predisposed the people to His coming. Certainly some of the Apostles, namely Peter and his brother Andrew, James and John, were first of all followers of John the Baptist before Jesus called them to His side. What joy must have filled their hearts to find their wildest dreams come true!
And so Jehohanan, (John), whose name signifies “Jahweh hath mercy”, the greatest of all the prophets, whose birth we celebrate today, announces to the first followers (and to us too) God’s fathomless Mercy, Love and Forgiveness for whomsoever has ears to hear.