Birth of John – Luke 1:57-66

Birth of John Elizabeth had a son, and all her friends and relatives were overjoyed for her. She seems to have recovered well from the birth itself, because eight days afterwards she was up and around, ready to attend the circumcision of her son.

59 On the eighth day they came to circumcise the child, and they were going to name him after his father Zechariah, 60 but his mother spoke up and said, “No! He is to be called John.”

61 They said to her, “There is no one among your relatives who has that name.”

62 Then they made signs to his father, to find out what he would like to name the child. 63 He asked for a writing tablet, and to everyone’s astonishment he wrote, “His name is John.” 64 Immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue set free, and he began to speak, praising God. 65 All the neighbors were filled with awe, and throughout the hill country of Judea people were talking about all these things. 66 Everyone who heard this wondered about it, asking, “What then is this child going to be?” For the Lord’s hand was with him.


A baby was usually named on the day of his circumcision, and a common practice at this time was to name a first son after his grandfather.

In this case however, Elizabeth’s extended family seemed to have decided that the baby would be called Zechariah, after his stricken father.

However, due to his inability to speak, his wife Elizabeth says the child s name is to be John, not Zechariah, after his father as would traditionally be the case. Note the remarkable coincidence (?) that Elizabeth also chooses the name John (Luke 1:60), a further sign that God is at work here.

Everyone disagreed with her, pointing out that there was no family precedent for the name ‘John’, but Elizabeth stood her ground.

Surprised, the people looked to the father, and Zechariah writes his response on a tablet: “His name is John.” This grammatical tense indicates something extremely important had happened in Zechariah s life. He doesn’t write, His name will be John, ” but he acknowledges than in a sense the child is already John. Zechariah is saying that he now finally understands what God is doing through what we may term a “divine synthesis.

In typical Lukan fashion, the responses of the people are (1) amazement ( v. 63) and fear ( v. 65). Both of these words occur more often in Luke than in the other gospels. They are not words of faith.

One could emphasize the difficulties of holding one’s convictions amid the pressure of family and friends to act or believe differently than what God has said. Note that the pressure or “temptation” from the people was not to do anything evil. They just wanted to name the child Zechariah after his father. However, that was contrary to God’s will in this particular case.

Luke Timothy Johnson  in Sacra Pagina: The Gospel of Luke writes about our text: “The passage provides a hinge in the infancy narrative. It has the fulfillment of one prophecy and the declaration of another.”

Immediately Zechariah s speech is restored and he bursts forth in song, the Benedictus, becoming an eloquent witness to a new era of the way God chooses to work. In this song of Zechariah’s, we get a glimpse of this divine thesis, the coming together of a single child who both fulfilled his parent’s most cherished hopes and prepared the way for the coming of the long-awaited Messiah.

Yet God wants to reveal more of Himself by His choice of the name John, which means “God is gracious.” Yes, He certainly is a  God who remembers and He is also an utterly faithful God who is wonderfully gracious, as the gift of His only Son to the world will eternally attest

John the Baptist’s birthday celebrated on June 24, is patron of tailors (because he made his own garments in the desert), of shepherds (because he spoke of the “Lamb of God”), and of masons.

Names – The purpose of naming in first century culture often was to encourage the name-bearer to remember something about God and what He has done

Zechariah – “whom Jehovah remembers

Elizabeth – “God is satisfaction”

John –  “God is gracious”

Significance

The story provides several important Advent messages.  First, Elizabeth (who was elderly and barren) will produce a child, just as a world which had become stale and ordinary and barren of meaning will produce something completely new.  Zechariah, speechless through his disobedience, recovers all that he has lost by listening to the Lord.  (He recovers his speech at his son’s circumcision, a rite which operated as a sign of the covenantal relationship between the people of Israel and the God who chose them.)   Within the loving covenant God calls us into, life springs up in the desert, and all we’ve lost will be recovered.

The story serves as an extended metaphor for what’s going on in the Incarnation.  God is breaking into this broken, handicapped, barren world.  He is re-defining what is “natural”; in other words, re-making all of creation.  This is not just an occasional miracle in a world that otherwise remains the same.  With apologies to the advertising industry, “This changes everything.”

The birth of John, often referred to as the last of the Old Testament prophets, signals that God is redeeming and reclaiming all of creation.  It teaches that we cannot rely on the old rules or our old expectations anymore.  Thus, during this time of year when the days are shorter and the darkness seems to dominate time itself, we light an Advent candle.  We know things are about to change.

 

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