THE FORERUNNER IS HERE
Lord, we appreciate names in the Bible.
Read LUKE 1:57–66
The Birth of John the Baptist
57 When it was time for Elizabeth to have her baby, she gave birth to a son. 58 Her neighbors and relatives heard that the Lord had shown her great mercy, and they shared her joy.
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.
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Zechariah “asked for a writing tablet, and to everyone’s astonishment he wrote, ‘His name is John.’ Immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue set free, and he began to speak, praising God” (Luke 1:63,64).
The story picks up with the birth of Elizabeth’s baby. Zechariah and Elizabeth are God-fearing Jews, so they take the baby to the temple at a week old to be circumcised and named. The fact that Gabriel has specified names for both John and Jesus continues the link between the two births and indicates that their names are significant. This is further underscored by the attention given to John’s name in today’s reading. Think about how we go about naming a baby today—we may choose a name to honor a friend or relative, or because the name is traditional in our family, or because it represents some quality we hope the child will display. In the ancient world it was also believed that in the very act of conferring a name they were actually endowing the child with some characteristic (known as a “performative utterance”). In today’s story, God chose the name.
“John” means “the Lord is gracious.” Elizabeth is gratified over this name and, in obedience to what he had heard from Gabriel, Zechariah confirms this choice. With this departure from family names there is the suggestion that John would grow up to be beyond a representative for his family but also a prophet for all of Israel. Mystery surrounds the whole incident—Elizabeth’s insistence on the name “John,” Zechariah’s confirmation of it, his reacquired speech, and the amazement and fear of not only those who witness these events, but “throughout the hill country of Judea” (65) as they sense that God is working in their midst and that this child has a significant future. An ever-widening circle of onlookers will reflect on the meaning of these events, as Luke prepares us for the story of John’s ministry.
In what ways do you sense anticipation of how God will work in the lives of your family, church and the wider world?
Lord, thank You for sending John the Baptist to announce the arrival of Your Messiah.