Scripture: Now the time came for Elizabeth to give birth, and she bore a son. And her neighbors and relatives heard that the Lord had shown great mercy to her, and they rejoiced with her. And on the eighth day they came to circumcise the child. And they would have called him Zechariah after his father, but his mother answered, “No; he shall be called John.” And they said to her, “None of your relatives is called by this name.” And they made signs to his father, inquiring what he wanted him to be called. And he asked for a writing tablet and wrote, “His name is John.” And they all wondered. And immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue loosed, and he spoke, blessing God. And fear came on all their neighbors. And all these things were talked about through all the hill country of Judea, and all who heard them laid them up in their hearts, saying, “What then will this child be?” For the hand of the Lord was with him. Luke 1:57-66 ESV
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Observation: Recapping Yesterday’s Daily Focus, Mary poetically responds to her cousin’s encouraging words, which the church has coined as the Magnificat. Steeped in Old Testament theology from verses of Genesis, the Psalms, Isaiah, and Hannah’s prayer (1 Samuel 2:1-10), it reveals the God who vindicates the abused and neglected and invokes justice on their perpetrators. And Mary climactically concludes with a profession of faith that God has spoken to Israel’s patriarchs and will continue to speak into the lives of his people forever (v.56).
Today’s reading tells the story of John the Baptist’s birth. Luke adds that Elizabeth’s neighbors were excited for her, highlighting the importance of community. And following the Lord’s command to Abraham, they circumcise John on the eighth day (see Genesis 17:9-14). Also, as a later-developed tradition, they name the child during this circumcision ceremony. But much to the surprise of family and neighbors, Elizabeth announces he is to be called John rather than name him after his father. Perplexed because none of their relatives are called John, they ask Zechariah what he would like to name the child. Still mute, Zechariah writes on a tablet, “His name is John,” and suddenly, he regains his speech and blesses God.
At this point, fear overcomes their neighbors as they realize the magnitude of this child’s birth. Still, being excited about what this could mean, the neighbors spread the news throughout the hill country of Judea, raising the people’s spirits as they pondered what the future holds, for the hand of God was on this child.
Takeaway: This brief introduction to Zechariah’s Benedictus reminds us of two essential elements of life within the family of God and how we should respond. First, as did the ancient Jews, our initiation into the family of God (whether baptism, confirmation, or church membership) is intended to be community oriented. God desires the body of Christ to witness and participate in these special sacraments and ceremonies.
Secondly, we bless our children and God when we thoughtfully name them. As mentioned in previous Daily Focus devotions, Israel understood that the child’s name revealed their parents’ hopes and aspirations for this little one. For they believed God would honor their longings for their son or daughter. And as the child matured in the Lord and understood the meaning of their name, it often inspired them to live it out. Indeed, the name John originated from the Hebrew name יוֹחָנָן (Yôḥānān), or in its longer form יְהוֹחָנָן (Yəhôḥānān), meaning “Yahweh has been gracious.”
So how should we respond? Reflectively, as did those who heard the good news. We marvel at what God is doing in our midst. We give thanks and celebrate what we anticipate the Lord will do in our children’s lives. And we dedicate not only those receiving the sacrament or initiation but also pledge to do our part to support them with God’s help. Lastly, as parents, we carefully choose names for our children to bless them and inspire them to bring God glory and grow his kingdom.
Prayer: Father God, we thank you for your Son and John, whose names mean and remind us of your salvation and grace, respectfully. And two thousand years later, we marvel at what this means for us and future generations. So would you please help us be reflective, celebratory, and supportive of those received into our families and your broader family of believers? Amen.
Rev. Gordon Green, M.Div., M.A. Counseling