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Birth of John the Baptist
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.
The child grew and became strong in spirit, and he was in the wilderness until the day he appeared publicly to Israel.Luke 1:57-66, 80
Today’s reading is about the birth and naming of John, but it is also about the breaking of Zechariah’s great silence.
Nine months earlier Zechariah had been visited by the angel Gabriel. During that visitation Gabriel told Zechariah that his elderly wife would bear a son who would become a great prophet.
Zechariah was a simple priest who lived a devout life with his wife, Elizabeth. They were not ready for all this talk of angels and prophets. Zechariah expressed his doubt and his power of speech was taken away. Zechariah entered nine months of silence and isolation.
Today’s reading describes the moment when Zechariah, inspired and empowered by God, broke his silence: the moment when his private contemplations came to an end; the moment when he broke with tradition and declared the unexpected; the moment when he unreservedly let God take the lead in his life.
Too often, when we encounter this reading we focus on the prophetic role that John will take up. But, during these strange times, it is also worth pausing and considering Zechariah. That devout and faithful man was suddenly plunged into a situation of confusing and apparently inexplicable isolation. He emerged from that time stronger because of his faithful prayer and obedience to God’s will.
When the time comes, will we find our relationship with God to have become as strong as that of Zechariah, or will we have allowed our prophetic voices to remain silenced through doubt and uncertainty?
The decision to be bold and follow God is ours to make!