The pattern of Luke’s account of the Infancy stories is parallel: two annunciations, two songs of thanksgiving, two birth stories.
The first story is the birth of John the Baptist, a time of great rejoicing for Zachary and Elizabeth. There’s a sense of fulfillment here, typical of Biblical stories. For a long time something has been prayed for, wished for; and now in the ‘fullness of time’, what was desired is fulfilled. The child has been born.
But this is no ordinary child ! At the time of circumcision, which is also the occasion for naming the child, all the other family members want to call the boy after his father, as the custom was. But both parents object, and Zachary writes down the name ‘John’, as the angel had told him earlier. This action releases his voice, and the old man cries aloud in praise of God.
There’s wonder and excitement all round: What will this child become? No doubt but the hand of the Lord is upon him.
‘Wonder and awe’ – these are the two emotions which dominate the stories of Jesus’s birth. ‘Awe’ is the mixture of fear and apprehension we feel when confronted with the divine. We feel out of our depth, shaken, nervous, perhaps overwhelmed. ‘Wonder’ is the positive side to this feeling. There’s the sense of uplift, of amazement, of indebtedness to God’s great mercy. Wonder usually ends in praise and thanksgiving. Much later in the Gospels whenever Jesus healed someone, the patient left his presence, giving thanks and praise to God, and filled with wonder.
But it all started here, in the birth stories of John and Jesus. For whenever the divine touches our lives, we can only wonder and give thanks.