This is the fourth of a series of nine articles about the Immaculate Conception and other related themes that will be published daily from December 1 through 9.
When we read the first chapter of St. Luke we can see immediately that he is weaving two stories together, one is the birth of St John the Baptist, the other is the birth of Jesus.
So far we know that Zechariah the Levite of the order of Abijah, met an angel from Heaven during his priestly service at the altar of incense. Poor Zechariah was so happy to hear the news that he likely thought “this is too good to be true” and asked from some extra assurance from the angel. That cost him his ability to talk. The angelical decree came fast: “you will be silent and unable to speak until the day that these things take place.” And it was so. Elizabeth, Zechariah’s wife, was with child in no time but she waited until her pregnancy was evident to make the announcement. Mary, on the other side of the mountains must have received the news of the miracle and went to help her older cousin Elizabeth who by now was several months into her pregnancy.
By then Mary was herself an expecting mother also but that did not stop her from crossing the hills, a considerable distance and a dangerous trip. I see in this further evidence that Mary was aware of being surrounded by angelical protectors. No princess on earth was ever so perfectly secure. No one ever had better bodyguards than young mother-to-be Mary. She must have been also very curious to see what was going on with all the miracles happening, two special babies coming into the world, and so on. Surely something was afoot and now humble Mary and her family were suddenly in the center of God’s scheme of salvation.
St Luke tells us what happened next:
In those days Mary arose and went with haste into the hill country, to a town in Judah, and she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. And when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the baby leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit, and she exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! And why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For behold, when the sound of your greeting came to my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord.” Luke 1:39-45
The baby leaping in Elizabeth’s womb was St John the Baptist. I am almost sure that this first encounter between Jesus and John, both in their mother’s womb, was the occasion when John was made perfect, when his mother was “filled with the Holy Spirit.” Some may say: how do you know? Well you see God is very methodic and He does not leave anything important to chance. Jesus confirmed to us that John the Baptist was not an ordinary man:
“Truly I tell you, among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist; yet whoever is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.” Matthew 11: 11.
Indeed John the Baptist was prepared and perfected to receive Jesus just like Mary was also prepared. The difference is that John was made perfect “in his mother’s womb” while Mary was “conceived without sin.” In John’s case the stain of original sin was removed when he was already a baby in the womb while Mary of Nazareth was without sin from the very moment of conception.
The blessing of Elizabeth, inspired by the Holy Spirit, survives to this day repeated by millions of souls in prayer. Elizabeth implicitly acknowledges that the son of her cousin Mary is her “Lord” the Messiah and that Mary is the Gebirah, the Mother of Israel. We know that because Elizabeth uses the same phrase that David used when he received the Ark of the Lord in his home: “How can the ark of the LORD come to me?” 2 Samuel 6:9. Then Elizabeth said: “And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord.” Remember how Zechariah could not quite believe the promise of the angel? It seems that his wife Elizabeth was perceptive enough to learn the lesson and compare his poor husband’s incredulity with Mary’s unparalleled trust in God.
Then Mary, also moved by the Holy Spirit, begins to sing one of the most beautiful parts of Holy Scripture, rightly called the Magnificat.
“My soul magnifies the Lord,
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant.
For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
for he who is mighty has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.
And his mercy is for those who fear him
from generation to generation.
He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts;
he has brought down the mighty from their thrones
and exalted those of humble estate;
he has filled the hungry with good things,
and the rich he has sent away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel,
in remembrance of his mercy,
as he spoke to our fathers,
to Abraham and to his offspring for ever.”
And Mary remained with her about three months and returned to her home.
There are books written about this song of Mary and we have so much to learn from it but today we will concentrate on what pertains to Jesus and John. Remember I told you that God leaves nothing important to chance? Mary’s canticle resembles the Song of Hanna, another woman from antiquity who could not conceive a baby. You can read her story in 1 Samuel chapter 1. Hanna was granted to be the mother of one of the greatest prophets in Israel, the prophet Samuel who, like John the Baptist was also a man fully dedicated to God.
We observe a further parallel there: Samuel was God’s instrument to anoint King David, just like John the Baptist was God’s instrument to anoint Jesus. (See Matthew 3:13-17) Many years later, when John baptized Jesus by the banks of the river Jordan, a voice was heard from Heaven. It was God the Father declaring:
“This is my Son the beloved with whom I am well pleased.”
David was a prophetic figure of the Messiah. David’s name in Hebrew means “the beloved” and so the phrase heard miraculously at the moment of Christ’s baptism points at the fulfillment of the ancient prophetic model.
Just like God prepared Samuel specially to anoint king David, He also prepared John, a Levite, a saint from his mother’s womb, to initiate Christ’s ministry and be the herald of the new King of Israel. And there we have another parallel: John preached in sackcloth and his message was one of repentance and penance. He was basically saying: the Messiah is coming, repent, return to justice, do penance for your sins! When Our Lady appeared to the three little shepherds in Fatima, she showed them a vision of an angel that requested the same from the world of our time: “Penance! penance! penance!” Heaven required penance from believers when the Messiah came for the first time, and it does require penance again now because His return is near.
The Birth of John the Baptist
This is Luke’s account of John’s birth:
Now the time came for Elizabeth to give birth, and she bore a son. And her neighbors and relatives heard that the Lord had shown great mercy to her, and they rejoiced with her. And on the eighth day they came to circumcise the child. And they would have called him Zechariah after his father, but his mother answered, “No; he shall be called John.” And they said to her, “None of your relatives is called by this name.” And they made signs to his father, enquiring what he wanted him to be called. And he asked for a writing tablet and wrote, “His name is John.” And they all wondered. And immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue loosed, and he spoke, blessing God. And fear came on all their neighbors. And all these things were talked about through all the hill country of Judea, and all who heard them laid them up in their hearts, saying, “What then will this child be?” For the hand of the Lord was with him.
Those hearing the story and seeing the miracles that had occurred did well in wondering what was going on. The time that Israel had been waiting for so long was at hand. Baby John was born, his father recovered his voice and began to praise God. Filled with the Holy Spirit he exclaimed:
“Blessed be the Lord God of Israel,
for he has visited and redeemed his people
and has raised up a horn of salvation for us
in the house of his servant David,
as he spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets from of old,
that we should be saved from our enemies
and from the hand of all who hate us;
to show the mercy promised to our fathers
and to remember his holy covenant,
the oath that he swore to our father Abraham, to grant us
that we, being delivered from the hand of our enemies,
might serve him without fear,
in holiness and righteousness before him all our days.
And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High;
for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways,
to give knowledge of salvation to his people
in the forgiveness of their sins,
because of the tender mercy of our God,
whereby the sunrise shall visit us from on high
to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,
to guide our feet into the way of peace.”
And the child grew and became strong in spirit, and he was in the wilderness until the day of his public appearance to Israel.
Consider all the good things that happen to those who received Mary of Nazareth in their homes. She is calling us home also, like a mother who calls her naughty children back inside because it’s getting dark. Well, this world is now getting darker and darker. Do you hear the voice of your Mother calling you in?
* * *
On December 8 we are going to celebrate the day of the Immaculate Conception. These days the world seems to be fraught with danger and unspeakable acts of violence and hate. Yet we present to the world the banner of Mary. Miraculous events will soon happen just like in biblical times. We should not be afraid and wait for the moment when Mary makes herself visible to all before her Son turns His attention to the affairs of this world.
A tiny part of my mission was to write this article so you are aware of Our Blessed Mother’s interest in you and every human being alive today. Let us join in praying the Novena of the Immaculate Conception, asking Our Mother for peace in the world, and the prompt return of Her Son, Jesus.
 Try to find how God made the Ark of the Covenant a prophetic figure of Mary by reading 2 Samuel chapters 5 and 6.
 Here is the third part of the secret revealed at the Cova da Iria-Fatima on July 13, 1917, as written by Sister Lucia: I write in obedience to you, my God, who commands me to do so through his Excellency the Bishop of Leiria and through your Most Holy Mother and mine. After the two parts which I have already explained, at the left of Our Lady and a little above, we saw an Angel with a flaming sword in his left hand. Flashing, it gave out flames that looked as though they would set the world on fire, but they died out when they came in contact with the splendor that Our Lady radiated towards him from Her right hand. Pointing to the earth with his right hand, the Angel cried out in a loud voice: “Penance, Penance, Penance!”