The Story of Christmas: Meet John the Baptist

Prepare the way of the Lord

John the Baptist
John plays a prominent role in all four gospel accounts of the Christmas story. But who is he?

The first thing we learn, even before John is born, is that his appearance will bring great joy—not just for his parents, but for everyone who is waiting for evidence of divine activity. The angel Gabriel announces to Zechariah that his wife Elizabeth, who had been childless, will bear a son. “You will have joy and gladness,” says the angel, “and many will rejoice at his birth” (Luke1:14).

John lives in the wilderness, subsisting on “locusts and wild honey” (Matthew 3:4). Like the prophets before him—Isaiah, Ezekiel, Jeremiah, Joel—John lambastes the people of Israel, threatening divine judgment if they do not change their ways. He also offers a way out: repent and be baptized. The practice of baptism was not unknown, but John’s one-time-only baptism for the repentance of sins was unique.

Using Isaiah’s words, John exhorts the people to prepare the way of the Lord. Like Jesus, John proclaims the kin-dom of God. Also like Jesus, he will suffer at the hands of the powerful for daring to challenge injustice and oppression. Ask yourself:

  • What words or phrases come to mind when you imagine John the Baptist?
  • If you could put John’s message in a short slogan, what would it be?
  • The story of Elizabeth and Zechariah recalls God’s promise of many descendants to Sarah and Abraham. Where in your own community do you see God’s promise?

Explore the characters in the Christmas story:

And watch for more blogs retelling the Story of Christmas.

 — Robyn Brown-Hewitt, Atlantic School of Theology and United Church Chaplain at Dalhousie University.