The birth of St. John the Baptist, the last and greatest of the Old Testament Prophets, was the result of a miracle. As Holy Scripture tells us, in the days of Herod, King of Judea, there was a priest named Zechariah, of the division of Abijah; and he had a wife of the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. And they were both righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless. But they had no child, because Elizabeth was barren, and both were advanced in years Lk 1:5-7).
Childlessness was a terrible thing to an Old Testament Jew; not having a firm belief in life after death, barrenness meant that one’s name would not be carried on in life. In addition, Zechariah and Elizabeth were both getting on in years, and the likelihood of bearing children diminished with each passing day.
But then the miraculous hand of God intervened. One day, while Zechariah was serving in the Temple, the Archangel Gabriel appeared to him and told him that his barren wife Elizabeth would bear a son, whose name would be John. Zechariah was incredulous. He doubted the angel since both he and his wife were old. As a result, by divine command, he was struck dumb until the time when the child would be born (Lk 1:8-23). After this, Elizabeth conceived, and for five months she hid herself, saying, “Thus the Lord has done to me in the days when He looked on me, to take away my reproach among men” (Lk 1:24-25).
We find parallels to this account in the Old Testament stories of the births of the Prophet Samuel and of Samson, both of whom were born of barren mothers at the intervention of God. But we find an even greater parallel in the birth of the Most Holy Theotokos, who was born of barren parents, Joachim and Anna, also by means of Divine Intervention.
Finally the time came for the consummation of the miracle. For the time came for Elizabeth to be delivered, and she gave birth to a son. And her neighbors and kinfolk 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 named him Zechariah after his father, but his mother said, “Not so; he shall be called John” (Lk 1:57-60). This was confirmed by Zechariah in writing; and when he wrote the name John, his mouth was opened, and he spoke openly.
And his father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit, and prophesied, saying, “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” (Lk 1:67, 76-77). We know that John later became a great Prophet and was privileged to baptize the Lord Himself in the waters of the Jordan. As the Evangelist tells us, he acknowledged Christ’s divinity when, after he had baptized Him and witnessed the events of that glorious day, he said, “I have seen and have borne witness that this is the Son of God” (Jn 1:34).