In the wilderness, the baptizer checks the mic, and clears his throat.
From ancient Judah, the prophet reviews his notes, and tries out his speech on his wife and kids.
From heaven, Gabriel ponders whether the teenage girl might prefer a text message.
Word is out that there’s a raging preacher in the desert and the people go out to see. John let’s them have it. “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?”
Zephaniah’s daughter agrees that it is best to start with a bit of flare: “Sing aloud, O daughter Zion; shout, O Israel! Rejoice and exult with all your heart, O daughter Jerusalem!”
Gabriel has done this 1,000 times, but is still nervous for the encounter. “Do not be afraid,” he says to her and himself at the same time.
There aren’t many props in the desert to illustrate your point, but all you really need are the stones. See this stone, still faintly glowing with the molten rock that erupted into the light of day long before the first of your species was born? See this stone, layered with the remains of your ancestors who crawled on the ocean floor? “Do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our ancestor’: for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham.”
Don’t overdue it, Zephaniah’s wife says, rolling her eyes. Say your main point and get on with it. “The Lord has taken away the judgments against you, has turned away your enemies. The Lord, your God, is in your midst. God will rejoice over you in gladness.”
Gabriel does his best to explain the general proposal of her giving birth to the Son of God, but Mary presses for details. “How can this be,” she asks, “since I am a virgin?”
John switches gears and tries another metaphor. Forget the stones; you’re a bud, a blossom, a flower on the tree of life. “Bear fruits worthy of repentance.”
Feeling that it needs to be a part of any declaration of good news, Zephaniah is sure to include the phrase: “Do not fear.”
Gabriel blushes and avoids getting specific: “The Holy Spirit will come upon you.”
In the wilderness, the crowds are listening with expectation.
Nice speech, someone says to Zephaniah afterwards, but when does the action start?
Mary is skeptical but willing to talk.
John is not the Messiah.
Zephaniah shrugs and says he’s been wondering the same himself.
Gabriel repeats himself, using different words: “The power of the Most High will overshadow you.”
John channels the laughing Buddha who, pointing at the moon, cautioned his followers not to focus on the finger, but on that to which it points. The raging preacher cracks a smile and points – to the water. Points to Christ, who is just now appearing on the horizon.
The people of his day never considered calling Zephaniah a minor prophet. His words hang thick in the air: “I will deal with all your oppressors at that time. And I will save the lame and gather the outcast, and I will change their shame into praise and renown in all the earth. At that time I will bring you home, says the Lord.”
Gabriel came prepared in case the issue arose as to how the impossible could be possible: “And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren.”
Standing in the middle of the river, John says, “He will baptize you with Holy Spirit and fire.”
Mary blurts out “Yes,” and before she has a chance to reconsider, the angel is gone.
Mary does not yet feel the seed growing inside her, but it is there. She digs her toes into the earth and becomes the tree of life.
Zephaniah is long dead, or not, when Mary blurts out: “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, he has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly. According to the promise made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”