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Luke 1:57-66, 80

The Birth of John the Baptist

Now the time came for Elizabeth to give birth, and she bore a son. Her neighbors and relatives heard that the Lord had shown his great mercy to her, and they rejoiced with her.

On the eighth day they came to circumcize the child, and they were going to name him Zechariah after his father. But his mother said, ‘No; he is to be called John.’ They said to her, ‘None of your relatives has this name.’ Then they began motioning to his father to find out what name he wanted to give him. He asked for a writing-tablet and wrote, ‘His name is John.’ And all of them were amazed. Immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue freed, and he began to speak, praising God. Fear came over all their neighbors, and all these things were talked about throughout the entire hill country of Judea. All who heard them pondered them and said, ‘What then will this child become?’ For, indeed, the hand of the Lord was with him.

The child grew and became strong in spirit, and he was in the wilderness until the day he appeared publicly to Israel. 

Zechariah had been visited by an angel while he was serving in the Temple and was told that he and his wife would have a son. He was told many things by the angel, one of which was the name he should give the child. Zechariah was then struck dumb because he asked how he would know that the angels words were true given that he and his wife were old.

In these verses the baby has now been born and they are taking him to be circumcized – the moment when baby boys are also named. This is not just about finding a name that sounds nice, it is instead about giving a name that shapes and describes who the child is to be. The assumption is that he would be given the name of Zechariah like his father, perhaps with the expectation that he would follow in his footsteps as a priest. But instead both Elizabeth and Zechariah say that his name should be John.

The name John comes from the Hebrew name Yochanan, which means ‘YHVH was gracious’. While this story is not about a virgin birth, this name acknowledges the remarkable intervention of God in making this baby possible. Zechariah consciously takes a back seat by naming him John and it is at this point that Zechariah is able to speak again. His first words with his loosened tongue are singing the praises of God.

This story echoes that of the birth of Samuel in, whose mother Hannah was also unable to have children. Samuel was a great prophet of Israel who anointed King Saul and then King David. Perhaps the neighbors and relatives had this story in mind when they wondered what kind of man John would grow up to be. Luke uses the phrase ‘the hand of God was upon him’ to inform us that just as God intervened in the birth of John, God’s involvement in John’s life was continuing.

Blessings as we pray that the hand of God may also be upon us this day and every day.  Be safe!  Be well!  The Spirit has come! 

To Ponder: 

  • What does your name mean? What does it mean to you? What do you think it means to God?
  • How much freedom would John have in his life?
  • Elizabeth and Zechariah got what they desired but ultimately John belonged to God. Do your desires and God’s will intertwine or is it a struggle?

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