Tuesday, December 20th. Luke 1:57-66

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 circumcise 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.  Luke 1:57-66


Two elements of this story catch my eye this morning – the community and the naming.


Ever since I first became a father I have noticed how the wider community reacts to children.  It was beyond fun when family and friends came to the hospital or to our apartment to join in our new lives as parents.  A great balance was created – the physical and emotional exhaustion was balanced by the community’s joy and encouragement.


That went on for several years before it faded away.  At some level I knew, when taking my 3 year old daughter to a grocery store, that no one would gush on about how cute she was when she reached middle school.  But the early excitement of the neighbors around the birth of John was wonderful for Zechariah and Elizabeth.  Until they named the child.


The story I have been told:  Had my mother been more willing to follow the Norwegian rules of naming the first born son after his grandfathers, my name would have been Knute Lionel Nelson rather than Kerry Lee Nelson.  She consented to the initials but no more than that.  I’m told her stubborn unwillingness to follow protocol was quite the scandal.


(Later, in thinking more deeply about that story, I realized that my uncle and aunt also had a first born son and they didn’t follow the rules either.  Thus, no more Knute’s in the family tree.)


The act of “naming” in Hebrew culture was an exercise in power.  In the creation stories, the man is given the power to name all of the other creatures.  In various Bible stories, characters acquire new names after God intervenes and charts a new course for their lives. Thus, it was a big deal that Elizabeth first chooses the name “John” and, as the fatherly act of naming a child signified the father’s role and responsibility, Zechariah concurred.


His name is John.


The text tells us the neighbors were puzzled, even gripped with fear.  They knew something was up, something was going on.  This was no ordinary birth and this would be no ordinary child.  But then again, we all think that of our children, don’t we?


Let us pray:  Dear Lord, as we move closer to our celebration of Christmas, thank you again for this glimpse into the preparations that began with the birth of John.  Thank you for the hope that comes with the birth of children, for the communities around us who support us, for the promise of new life.  Use us, in whatever way we can be helpful, to be signs preparing the way for Jesus into the lives of others.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.


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