The readings are from the Catholic lectionary for daily mass while the headline is meant to keep my thinking real:
Luke 1:57-66 ©
The time came for Elizabeth to have her child, and she gave birth to a son; and when her neighbours and relations heard that the Lord had shown her so great a kindness, they shared her joy.
Now on the eighth day they came to circumcise the child; they were going to call him Zechariah after his father, but his mother spoke up. ‘No,’ she said ‘he is to be called John.’ They said to her, ‘But no one in your family has that name’, and made signs to his father to find out what he wanted him called. The father asked for a writing-tablet and wrote, ‘His name is John.’ And they were all astonished. At that instant his power of speech returned and he spoke and praised God. All their neighbours were filled with awe and the whole affair was talked about throughout the hill country of Judaea. All those who heard of it treasured it in their hearts. ‘What will this child turn out to be?’ they wondered. And indeed the hand of the Lord was with him.
It seems historically likely that Jesus was a disciple of John the Dipper and that this knowledge was a slight embarrassment to followers of Jesus. All the gospels try to provide evidence that John himself acknowledged Jesus’ greater importance. Luke gives a more measured story which allows him both to honour John as a great prophet while making a contrast between him and Jesus from the start. Both mothers are women of strong faith and messianc hope; both pregnacies are crucial to God’s purpose but only Mary’s is virginal; both names are meaningful, but whereas John (Johanan) means “God is gracious”, Jesus (Joshua) means “God rescues”. Luke wants to include John in what he sees as the generous movement of God’s goodness towards his people, while he makes Jesus the culmination of this movement.
In these opening chapters Luke is writing in the style of the Greek translaton of the Hebrew bible, called the Septuagint. His mix of storytelling, prophetic and psalm-like modes is meant to link the story of Jesus to the long story of Israel. Jesus will revolutionise the Jewish faith but Luke wants us to know that he was formed by it.
This recognition led eventually to the inclusion of the Hebrew bible in the Christian bible. I would always want to emphasise that as scripture for Christian believers the Hebrew bible has to be interpreted in the light of Jesus. Nevertheless it is also true that the Church has included the Hebrew bible as a permanent corrective of some of its own tendencies; whenever Christian faith gets too complicated about God, or over- spiritualised, or too concerned about faith rather than practice, the Hebrew bible is there to illuminate elements in Jesus’ life and teaching which insist on simplicity of faith, down-to-earthness, and practical obedience.
As Luke presents him John is a little bit of the “old” testament imported into the “new”, reminding us that Jesus didn’t spring fully formed from nowhere.