A character deeply involved in the Christmas narrative, yet never makes the trek to Bethlehem, is a cousin of the Messiah. We know him as John the Baptist. While he was not among the company gathered at the feed trough that amazing night, he is, nonetheless, a vital part of the Christmas narrative.
Some months prior to the birth of Jesus, two women, cousins, linked up in a priestly city in Hebron. It appears Mary travelled about one hundred fifteen miles to visit her older cousin Elizabeth. Little did she know travel was about to become a regular fixture in her life! What happened when she entered the house of her equally expecting cousin reveals something amazing about one of the characters swirling around Christmas.
And it came to pass, that, when Elisabeth heard the salutation of Mary, the babe leaped in her womb; and Elisabeth was filled with the Holy Ghost (Luke 1:41).
The baby mentioned here, the one who leaped at the presence of the Messiah, was no less than John the Baptist. Later, Jesus would point out the uniqueness of John by placing him upon a pedestal none of us dare seek. Calling him “the greatest born of women” (Matthew 11:11), Jesus elevated John into the stratosphere. He was indeed singular in status. John was the end of one era, the beginning of a new. His ministry bridged the Law and Prophets and the epoch of grace in which you and I now dwell. Flamboyant and at the same time self-effacing, John was an amazing man.
Yet it is not his preaching nor baptism statistics which are the focus of his life around the Christmas gathering. Rather, it is the fact that John, even while in the womb of his Mother Elizabeth, was the first human on this planet to recognize the proximity of the Messiah. It appears Mary walked into the house of Zacharias and Elizabeth, said hello, and immediately amazing things began to take place. John sensed the nearness of Jesus, even though the Savior of the world was tiny, and leaped for joy. At that same moment, Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Ghost and began to prophesy. How awesome would it be if during this Christmas season we witnessed a repeat performance of that powerful moment? Imagine becoming a mixture of all three figures, Mary, Elizabeth, and John, and having a life-altering visitation of the Holy Spirit during this Christmas season. May it take place in all our lives!
Back to John. Even in his pre-birth state he was smart enough to worship when he recognized the presence of the Master. The word “leaped” describes an overt act of worship. Luke uses it to describe worship (Luke 6:23). It literally was used to describe the gamboling of lambs. Driving through the small village of Encino, NM, I happened upon a Pronghorn Antelope and her small fawn. The little antelope was dancing around the mother, leaping up and down, frolicking like crazy while the mother looked on. I could almost read her mind. “I remember when I had that much energy!”
The cavorting of that antelope fawn is a picture of what John did when he sensed the nearness of the Savior. His worship became his witness to the singular greatness of Jesus. He could not allow our Lord to come that close to him without reveling in worship. To have Jesus that close and not respond was totally out of the question, even if John was not fully developed.
May we, as we gather with our own close circles this Christmas, not make the mistake of missing the presence of Jesus in our midst. He is with us, often undetected because we are not looking for Him, but present, nonetheless. Perhaps if we will step back and search for a moment, we too, and those around us, might have a time of spiritual refreshing and renewal so that it may be said of us, “they were all filled with the Holy Ghost” and we too can declare to others the greatness of the Savior.