Did not her eyes as grey as doves
Alight like the peace of a new world upon that house, upon miraculous Elizabeth?
Her salutation Sings in the stone valley like a Charterhouse bell:
And the unborn saint John Wakes in his mother’s body,
Bounds with the echoes of discovery. (Thomas Merton)
They said to her, “None of your relatives have that name.” Then they began gesturing to his father to see what he wanted to call him. After asking for a tablet, he surprised everyone by writing, “His name is John.” At that moment, Zechariah was able to speak again, and he began praising God. All their neighbors were filled with awe, and everyone throughout the Judean highlands talked about what had happened. All who heard about this considered it carefully. They said, “What then will this child be?” Indeed, the Lord’s power was with him. (Luke 1:61-66; context)
Yesterday’s reading ended with Elizabeth’s family and friends wanting to name her baby after his father, Zechariah. But she disappoints them saying, “No, his name will be John.” They don’t understand. The naming convention of the day directed parents to pick a family name, and John appears nowhere on their list. Zechariah (who, you recall, has been unable to speak since he sassed the angel at the beginning of the chapter) writes on a tablet: “His name is John.”
I don’t know if there is any significance to what I’m about to point out, but it’s there, so I’m going to say it anyway. Notice that Elizabeth uses the future tense (“his name will be”) and Zechariah the present (“his name is”). The future tense is a bit weaker – his name isn’t “John” yet, so there’s still room for discussion. I imagine that with this passage, Luke goes with the flow of his patriarchal times. When he uses the present tense, Zechariah in effect puts his foot down – “His name is John, end of discussion.” Who knows? Perhaps relatives and neighbors still wouldn’t have been satisfied. But at that moment, Zechariah begins to speak again. The first thing he does? You got it. He praises God. Everyone forgets their squabble about John’s name, and they wonder at how powerful this child will be.
Now compare this to Jesus’ naming ritual in the next chapter (2:21). Not a soul complains that he isn’t taking Joseph’s name. Is this because everyone knows that Joseph isn’t the child’s biological father? Perhaps the baby just didn’t look like a “Joseph.” Or perhaps no one makes a fuss because “Jesus” is not simply a name, but a mission statement – “God saves.”
**Next week, we will skip to the beginning of Luke 2. Sadly, we just don’t have time to tackle Zechariah’s song to his son, which concludes chapter 1, but I commend it to. Click the “context” link above to read it.**
Dear God, in you I find my mission, my life, and my joy. Help me to live into the fullness and freedom of moving in concert with your continual creativity. In Jesus Christ’s name I pray. Amen.
I leave this moment with you, God, with a song in my heart about the way you are reshaping this world in the image of your kingdom.