Naming someone is an extraordinary gift. I wonder, who have you named?
We have three children, and we took much time in naming- what the names meant. You know that name may shape who they are, how others look at them, and it will play a part on how they grow. Names are important- I wonder why you were given the name that you were given? What does your name mean, and what part has this played in shaping your life?
Incidentally, I am Robert- apparently meaning- famed, bright and shining. I’m not sure if my wife would agree!
And so we come to the naming of John.
Now, let’s be honest, this was no ordinary birth. This birth was promised by the message of the angel to Zechariah (meaning the Lord has remembered). A promise that spoke of Elizabeth (a name meaning Oath of God). Extraordinary that Elizabeth, who had gone through the menopause was to conceive- miraculous with God, leading her to the place of joy. We know of Zechariah’s disbelief of the Angel’s words, and because of his hard heartedness, he was unable to speak for the time of the pregnancy. Elizabeth has since had a visit from Mary, the also now pregnant mother of Jesus, where we are told that John lept in the womb in the presence of Jesus Christ, and now John is to be born.
You can imagine the scene, neighbours and relatives all hearing the news that it was time for the birth. Zechariah was still unable to speak and 8 days after the birth, it was time to dedicate this child to God through circumcision. The naming of the child, and the child’s incorporation into Israel. The general consensus was that he would keep the family name- that of his dad- all was set- Zechariah it is.
No- cries Elizabeth. No. What’s this- most unacceptable. He needs to be called John.
So, all eyes now fixed on the Father- he will do what is required and stop this silliness. Zechariah writes- his name is John- a name which means Yahweh is gracious, God has shown favour- and then having been obedient to the words of the angel, he begins to speak again. Wow, these things were talked about all over Judea- what then will this child become, leading Zechariah to offer his extraordinary hymn of praise in the Benedictus, having been filled with the Holy Spirit. That is the reading that we had tonight.
The Benedictus is filled with Old Testament imagery. It is the outburst of joy and of praise, not only that Zechariah can speak, cheer, and sing again, but that John was born safely, and has now been named in accordance with God’s wishes- that Elizabeth is safe.
There are two sections, first, from verses 68 to 75, a sheer explosion of faith in God, retelling his story- his testimony. A reminder that God is faithful, rooted in oath, promise and here is something of the fulfilment of that promise. The second section is one of prophetic wisdom- sharing his insight, his hope for this child that has now been born. He will point towards Jesus, going before the Lord to prepare his ways- sharing wisdom and knowledge in the gift of forgiveness. Pointing towards the cross and new life made possible in Jesus Christ. The promise of God in our midst. Light in the midst of darkness, and guiding us toward the gift of peace- the gift of the resurrection. Peace be with you, says Jesus as he appears to the disciples. Peace be with you.
Tonight, those being confirmed are caught up in this drama. The God who has called you is faithful, and the God who has called you draws you closer to Jesus Christ in the power of the spirit. The one who ultimately brings us into light and guides us into the way of peace.
May you continue to discern that calling- by name, that the Holy Spirit is at work through you, and today the Kingdom is enlarged as a result.