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Reflection for the Festival of the Birth of John the Baptist

Listen to a reflection on Luke 1.57-66,80, the gospel reading set for the Festival of the Birth of John the Baptist, Thursday 24 June 2021

Reading
Luke 1.57-66, 80

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.

The child grew and became strong in spirit, and he was in the wilderness until the day he appeared publicly to Israel.

Reflection

Today we hear of the birth of John the Baptist, the forerunner of Jesus Christ. The elderly Elizabeth who miraculously became pregnant following the visitation of an angel to Zechariah has given birth to the promised son. We join the narrative at the moment of the baby’s naming, eight days after his birth. According to Jewish custom and practice all who had gathered for the celebration of this wonderful event expected to hear Elizabeth announce that her baby would be named after his father. Instead, a new path was forged, the baby was to be named John, as foretold by God’s messenger, the angel Gabriel.

When the message of Elizabeth’s pregnancy was delivered to Zechariah, the priestly father expressed doubt that God was really working in their lives. The angel’s response to this doubt was to take away Zechariah’s power of speech until this moment in the history of humanity. And that is where we are in today’s reading. The baby has been born, he has been brought to the synagogue for naming and circumcision, and the baby’s mother has honoured the words of the angel and confounded those amongst whom she was standing. The congregation turned to the father for some sense of normality to be restored, and Zechariah joined his wife in honouring the command of God. The baby was to be named John. Then, just as suddenly as it was taken away, Zechariah had his power of speech restored.

There is a great lesson for us in what happens next. The narrative is clear and unequivocal: immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue freed, and he began to speak, praising God. So much had happened in the preceding nine months. The life of Zechariah and Elizabeth was turned on its head. Not only was the elderly Elizabeth expecting a child, but Zechariah was rendered unable to exercise most of his priestly duties. There was much time for the couple to reflect upon the message of the angel Gabriel. Then, Zechariah’s tongue was freed.

At this moment the baby’s father did not busy himself with gossip and accounts of his experiences in the preceding months, instead he praised God. In the midst of the amazed assembly, Zechariah brushed aside the everyday and the irrelevant, and he praised God.

Let us pray that we might recognize God working in our daily lives. Let us pray that we might be ever open to the promptings of God’s Holy Spirit as we seek to live lives of faithful discipleship. Let us pray that the first words we utter in every situation may be words of praise for the God who loves us so much.