Luke 1:57-66 | December 11, 2021
The Birth of John the Baptist
by Karen Collier
It’s a big decision, choosing a name for a child, isn’t it? As friends and family come to celebrate the blessing of the child of Elizabeth and Zechariah, they assume he will be named for his father. Why else would those present for the dedication feel themselves authorized to say what he will be named? Is it because they know Zechariah to be mute, and given the practices and traditions followed in the priest’s home, they assume they know what he would say?
We are told those present are astonished when the child’s mother objects, calling out, “No! He is to be called John!” When they finally ask the child’s father, Zechariah requests a tablet and writes, “His name is John,” as was told to him by the angel Gabriel. When he does so, his ability to speak is restored and he praises God. Those who witness this are amazed, as Zechariah has been unable to speak for months. It wasn’t long before this story was being shared throughout Judea.
I can’t help but empathize with Zechariah. Luke tells us he was a good and upright man, a priest who observed all the commandments and regulations. Yet when the angel appears to him with the good news that he and his wife would have a child and who that child would be, he asks, “How can this be?” He was old as was his wife. They prayed for a child for years, but now? Gabriel tells him he will not be able to speak “until the day this happens because you did not believe my words, which will come true at their proper time.”
In his book Luke for Everyone, theologian N.T. Wright tells us “…we shouldn’t miss the contrast between muddled, puzzled Zechariah…and the obedient humility of Mary… She too questions Gabriel, but this seems to be a request for information, not proof. Rather, faced with the chance to be the mother of the Messiah, though not yet aware of what this will involve, she says the words which have rung down the years as a model of the human response to God’s unexpected vocation: ‘Here I am, the Lord’s servant-girl; let it be as you have said.’
When Zechariah proclaims the child’s name is John, the angel’s words come true, and Zechariah uses his voice to prophesize concerning what was to come:
“And you, my child, will be called a prophet of the Most High; for you will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for him, to give his people the knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins…”
Freed from his months of silence and clear in his understanding, he speaks through the generations to share the truth of the angel’s words. I expect we would all hope for such forgiveness.
Prayer: Gracious God, as we ready our hearts and minds for the coming of the Christ child, we ask your patience with our questions and your forgiveness for our doubts. We admit there are times your words fall on deaf ears and others when our silent tongues should speak out. Teach us to hear your voice through the noise of the world. Show us how to gather your people together and lead us to the manger. Amen.