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This is the 22nd in a series of daily Advent reflections based on the appointed daily readings. To see the other posts in this series click on the Advent Reflections link above, or in the right-hand sidebar under categories.

The theme for today is obedience. patience, fulfilment.  As it’s Sunday I have chosen a religious image.

Dove Descending - Symbol of Peace and the Holy Spirit

Detail from a Baptismal Wall-Hanging, St. Barnabas, Winnipeg. Dove Descending – Symbol of Peace and the Holy Spirit

Today’s reading is Luke 1:57-66.  You can read the text below or by clicking on the link.

This is the continuation of the story of Elizabeth and Zechariah.  Today we learn about the birth and naming of their son, John the Baptist.

If you remember, Zechariah had doubted Gabriel when he told him his wife Elizabeth would conceive and deliver a male child.  As judgement Zechariah was struck mute.  Gabriel had instructed Zechariah to name the boy John.  The time finally came for Elizabeth to have her child and just as Gabriel predicted, she gave birth to a boy.  The whole village celebrated the good news of God’s grace bestowed on this elderly couple.

The custom was to circumcise and name a boy child when he was eight days old.  It was also customary to name the boy for his father. When the men of the village were about to name the baby, Elizabeth intervened.  This was not how a woman was expected to behave in those days.  She further shocked the men by telling them her baby should be called John.  The neighbours couldn’t understand why she wanted this, there was no one named John in the family.  So they asked Zechariah (father knows best!).  Because Zechariah was still unable to speak he had to write his answer. He wrote, “His name is John”.   Immediately Zechariah was able to speak again and the first words he uttered were in praise of God!

The answer Zechariah wrote to the question of the boys name was significant.  I would have expected him to say, “We shall name him John” or “He shall be called John”.  But he didn’t.  He said, “His name is John” (My emphasis).  Zechariah understood that God had already named him, he was already John.  This baby boy belonged to God, not Elizabeth or Zechariah.  By his answer, Zechariah demonstrated his faith, wisdom and obedience.

Can you imagine the joy in that family.  First, this unexpected treasure given them so late in their lives. Secondly, the relief of a safe delivery for mother and child and the end of the long 9 months of waiting and increasing discomfort of pregnancy.  Thirdly, the knowledge that their son had been chosen by God. And finally, the blessing that Zechariah could speak again after many long months. I expect he and Elizabeth had much to say to one another.

Luke has given us a very personal story about this remarkable couple and wonderful details about John’s nativity.

Because of Zechariah’s obedience and God’s grace, the promises of scripture were fulfilled in John.  John was the one to herald the news of the coming Messiah.  He was the one who encouraged the people to repent and get ready.  He was the one given the privilege of baptizing Jesus in the Jordan. He was the one who Jesus said was the greatest of all the prophets of Israel.

Sadly, John died at the hands of the tyrant Herod, because he courageously denounced Herod’s sinful actions.

This Advent, as we approach the nativity of our Lord, I pray for an obedient heart and the courage to follow it.

The Birth of John the Baptist Luke 1:57-66

 Now the time came for Elizabeth to give birth, and she bore a son. Her neighbours 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 neighbours, 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.