Who’s the real John and whose is that Magnificat?

Signpost for Sunday 14th December 2014, Advent 3, Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11; Luke 1:47-55; 1 Thessalonians 5:16-24, John 1:6-8, 19-28

The Johns in the New Testament are a bit confusing – how many are there, and who wrote what, when and where? John the Baptist is easily identifiable as an historic figure. It’s interesting that today’s Gospeller, John, does not refer to him as either “the Baptist” or “the Baptiser” as do Matthew and Mark, but concentrates on his role as a fore-runner and witness to the Messiah. Neither does the Gospel-writer describe the Baptist’s clothing or diet, nor make a direct reference to his baptising Jesus. Our images of a strange, wild figure come from the other Gospels. John’s John prepares the way for Jesus – testifies to Jesus’s unique relationship with God. And, for good measure, but outside of today’s reading, points him out to two of his own disciples as “the Lamb of God”.

John the Baptist was apparently well-known, to the extent that he just might possibly be the Messiah: in fact the Jews sent Scribes and Pharisees to ask specifically, “who are you?” His own following extended beyond Palestine – in Acts we have significant Christians who knew only John’s baptism by water and had never heard of Jesus’s baptism by the Holy Spirit. His fame is attested to by the Jewish historian Josephus who in recording that one of Herod’s armies was destroyed in AD36 states, “Now, some of the Jews thought that the destruction of Herod’s army came from God, and that very justly, as a punishment for what he did against John that was called the Baptist; for Herod slew him, who was a good man…” The quote is too long for a Signpost article, but does mention that Herod “feared lest the great influence John had over the people might put it into his power and inclination to raise a rebellion”. There’s no mention of Herodias or her beguiling daughter though.

It takes the Magnificat-as alternative-to-Psalm reading to enable me to bring in my own delight in Elizabeth’s baby leaping with joy in her womb at recognising Jesus in Mary’s womb. It doesn’t match up with the Baptiser’s words in today’s Gospel reading, “I myself did not know him…” but no worries. My Bible tells me that “other ancient authorities” attribute the Magnificat to Elizabeth, not Mary: the flow of verses 39 to 56 of the Luke passage certainly makes that a possibility. But, heh, no worries there, either. It’s just so much more exciting when you’re not a Literalist.

Sheila

P.S. The Signpost year signs off with this last post from Sheila. Blessings to all our readers and writers until next year. May you be blessed, with the spirit of the season, which is peace; with the gladness of the season, which is hope, and with the heart of the season, which is love.

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