“But the angel said to him, ‘Do not be afraid, Zacharias, for your prayer is heard; and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John. And you will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth. For he will be great in the sight of the Lord, and shall drink neither wine nor strong drink. He will also be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb. And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God. He will also go before Him in the spirit and power of Elijah, ‘to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children,’ and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.’” (Lk 1: 13-17)
The Archangel Gabriel describes the “spiritual” impact of the Great Forerunner of the Lord, who was to be filled with the Holy Spirit and power, bringing “joy” and change to the hearts of his people. But the angel also mentions this detail of John the Baptist’s “physical” diet: He “shall drink neither wine nor strong drink.”
Was St. John’s life-long, complete sobriety an important detail, in this context? I mean, in the context of his impact on “many”? I think it was, because the archangel mentions it. I think that St. John’s unique vocation, “to make ready a people prepared for the Lord,” also called for his own, constant “readiness” to be of service to God and others, in complete sobriety and other uncommon forms of abstinence. Because that is one of the gifts of fasting: It makes us more ready for, and capable of, service.
In a very different way, we also receive the “calling” completely to abstain from alcohol, some of us only on certain days of strict fasting, and others of us – every day, if we are afflicted by the disease of alcoholism. In any event, sobriety is a gift, liberating us to tread the light-filled road of our cross-carrying journey, in more usefulness to God, ourselves and others. Lord, help us today, by the prayers of Your Forerunner, to respond to Your call in “joy and gladness.”