“For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leapt for joy.” Elizabeth, to Mary (Luke 1:44)
Luke introduces his account of the birth of Jesus with the account of the angelic announcement and miraculous conception/gestation/birth of John (the Baptist). This is just one of the many ways in which God meticulously plans the birth of his Son. John is sent into the world to go before Jesus and prepare the way for him.
John will do this in many ways: an uncompromising call to repentance, wrestling with his own doubts, in the face of sorrow and tragedy. But the very first way in which John prepares the way for Jesus’ coming, while both are still in their mothers’ wombs, is by leaping for joy.
Let that sink in.
In the Lectionary readings for Holy Communion today, this reading follows Zephaniah 3:14-18, in which God is portrayed as leaping (and, indeed, singing) with joy over his people. So juxtaposed, we are invited to see John’s response as a human participation in that of, and initiated by, God.
Joy is not our only experience. It wasn’t John’s. It isn’t God’s. But it is there, and not as something incidental but as amazing participation in mystery. My prayer for you, and for myself, is that, in the midst of everything else we may be going through, we might experience at least moments of joy this Christmas-time.