Tim Costello from World Vision Australia, reflects on how we can learn from John the Baptist, and become non-conforming heralds of an unconventional, gracious and present God.

The miracles were abundant leading up to that first Christmas.

In Luke 1:57-66 we read of the birth of Jesus’ cousin John The Baptist - an event foretold by the Archangel Gabriel; a birth that broke human limitations, and coincided with the child’s divinely-given name and the powerful and instantaneous healing of his deaf and mute father.

It was a miraculous prelude to an even greater story to come. Yet another example of how God fulfils his promises in ways we don’t expect.

In the culture of the Israelites, the name of a child was significant. Neighbours and relatives all wanted John to be named after his father Zechariah; it was the traditional thing to do. But obeying the angel’s instructions, Zechariah and John’s mother Elizabeth refused to conform to tradition.

The subsequent protest of the crowd shows that they were unaware of what God was doing. Sometimes going God's way means going against the grain of our culture.

The choice of the non-conformist name John (from the Hebrew word meaning ‘God has been gracious’) meant that the priestly name was abandoned, breaking the priestly succession and heralding the dawn of messianic salvation . It was a defining moment in the Christ story.

John’s vocational calling came prior to his birth. While still in his mother’s womb, John had recognised the presence of Jesus by leaping when Mary visited Elizabeth (Luke 1:41).

John is clearly a pivotal figure in the salvation history of God; a prophet who bridges the Old and New Testaments. A man named and chosen for a specific mission in life.

As Christians we too are specifically called by name and vocation to bear witness to the light which is Christ, to fight for justice, to serve others rather than drawing attention to ourselves. To be non-conformists.

God knows our names before our birth. He calls us, like John, to be witnesses to unconventional truths. John heralded the coming of Jesus, when God would become present amongst his people – a highly unconventional truth.

After all, Christianity has always been and will always be more about the magic of the mystery and the fire of the spirit rather than belief in a conventional order.

As we we approach Christmas this Advent, may we be like John the Baptist, non-conforming heralds of an unconventional and gracious God – present amongst his amongst his people, just as he became present amongst us.


Tim Costello is an Australian Baptist minister and the Chief Advocacy Officer at World Vision Australia. Image credit: Joanne M.  Foto

Daily Reading Luke 1:57-66

57 Now the time came for Elizabeth to give birth, and she bore a son. 58 Her neighbours and relatives heard that the Lord had shown his great mercy to her, and they rejoiced with her.

59 On the eighth day they came to circumcise the child, and they were going to name him Zechariah after his father. 60 But his mother said, “No; he is to be called John.” 61 They said to her, “None of your relatives has this name.” 62 Then they began motioning to his father to find out what name he wanted to give him. 63 He asked for a writing tablet and wrote, “His name is John.” And all of them were amazed. 64 Immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue freed, and he began to speak, praising God. 65 Fear came over all their neighbours, and all these things were talked about throughout the entire hill country of Judea. 66 All who heard them pondered them and said, “What then will this child become?” For, indeed, the hand of the Lord was with him.

An Advent series on "Being Present"