Two miraculous births. Two women who faced the ultimate embarrassment in their lives: not having children. During their time in history, children were seen as the way in which people live on beyond their own lives. They live the legacy of their children and the memory of others. To be barren, to be without children, was seen as a terrible disgrace. As is true with many sad events human existence, the situation was such that people without children were seen as morally inferior.
So imagine the tremendous joy and excitement when the Angel appears to announce the end of their childless days. More significant than the end of their childless days, was the reality that these births would give rise to children destined to change history. The parallels between the first reading in the gospel are easy to understand. Both Sampson and John the Baptist are born into circumstances where their mothers will see to it they lived a special type of life. They will refrain from certain foods and drinks, and their appearance will be governed by divine law.
Perhaps most important, both will show forth the glory of God in their lives. Samson’s great strength will bring glory to Israel. John the Baptist’s great fidelity will cost him his life. Both Samson and John give witness to a power that is not completely their own. The simple act of cutting hair leaves Samson weak. The encounter with Jesus in the Jordan River, requires a humility on the part of John that reminds him he is not in charge of his mission .
While both readings occur in very dramatic circumstances the spectacular appearances of God through the Angel, each one of us is the result of a miraculous birth. This is so because each one of us is made in the image and likeness of God. While we may not have the tremendous strength of Samson, or the wisdom and eloquence of John the Baptist, we do have all that matters: the grace of God.