I wonder what this child will turn out to be.
It’s tempting to say that this is the universally implied question every time a child is born into a family. It was a question vocalized by people in a small Palestinian village, served by a priest named Zechariah quite a few generations ago. The incident is recounted in one of today’s Advent texts, Luke 1:57-66. (Other texts return us to the prophetic hope of the Messiah’s coming: Amos 9:8-15; Isaiah 12:2-6.)
The truth is that not everyone values children in the way John was valued at his birth. We don’t generally have fathers who could not believe some angelic promise that he would become a parent at all, only to have him lose the capacity for speech until he writes out the name he has been instructed to bestow on the boy. In this first century account, people were so stunned by what took place in Zechariah’s own life that they, quite reasonably, concluded that the son would be someone special someday. It would be nice to think that we feel that way about every child; but we do not. In many cases, children are seen more as a burden than as a cause for hope; they are unplanned, unwanted, and unprepared for all too often. It’s not the hope they represent but the hope their presence denies to their parents. It’s the limitations to personal fulfillment or accomplishment they bring that bothers us at times.
But not always. We as a nation are stunned today by what has taken place in our midst. We do not have the capacity to enter fully into the grief of parents whose children were taken from them. Along with the children went the hopes and dreams for what they might have become. I think the outpouring of emotion from all segments of our world betrays the fact that we should have expectations, we should find joy in the unfolding answers to the question of what these children—each of them—may become. Perhaps there is a future doctor who will touch bodies for healing; maybe a lawyer who will change the legal landscape with a wise new solution to some conundrum; maybe an engineer who invents a new way of solving a previously intractable problem. On a less grand scale, we anticipate seeing children go through the various markers of maturity, with celebrations of each advancement in life.
What if the answer to the questions surrounding John’s future has been answered accurately when they were first voiced? What if someone with prophetic insight had said he would become some sort of eccentric social misfit who stayed out of society entirely, but developed a following by preaching in out of the way places? “Oh.” End of conversation.
Among the victims of the terrible events in Sandy Hook may have been one who would have prepared the way for the Christ to come to another person, another community. We’ll never know. We do know that the message of hope must go forward; without that message, all are doomed to meaningless lives. All of the destruction we encounter will have the final word. We have sufficient evidence that our society and culture are incapable of fixing themselves. We long for a long-expected Jesus to free us from our fears and our sins. And how blessed our the feet of those who bring and will bring good news.