Reflection on Luke 1.57-66 (Advent: O Emmanuel, 23 December)

Listen to a reflection for Advent: O Emmanuel, Friday 23 December 2022, on Luke 1.57-66

O Emmanuel

O Emmanuel, our King and our lawgiver, 
the hope of the nations and their Saviour; 
Come and save us, O Lord our God.

Luke 1.57-66 
The 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. 


Nine months and eight days after the birth of his son was foretold and Zechariah was rendered mute because of his scepticism, the proud mother and father are joined by neighbours and relatives in the synagogue. They have come to the moment when their son will be circumcised and will be given his name. Within the Jewish community there are traditions around the naming of children, and especially male children. It is seen as important that family names should be passed down the generations in honour of those who have gone before. But, when it came to the naming of the son of Zechariah and Elizabeth such traditions were to be set aside. Neighbours and relatives would have expected the boy to be named Zechariah, but Elizabeth said: No; he is to be called John. It is difficult for us to imagine how shocked the assembled company would have been. Surely Elizabeth had got it wrong. So, they turned to Zechariah, expecting him to put things right and to countermand his wife’s strange declaration.  But, no, Zechariah: asked for a writing-tablet and wrote, ‘His name is John’. We are told that the whole company was amazed.

Then came an even greater surprise … immediately Zechariah’s power of speech was restored and, as he began to speak, he praised God. Zechariah was the only one who had encountered the angel all those months ago. Zechariah was the only one who had journeyed through the time of Elizabeth’s miraculous pregnancy in silence. Zechariah was the one who had been given the time to reflect upon what he had been told, and so Zechariah was the one who did not only obey God’s command, but also praised God for all that he had done.

As we have journeyed through Advent we have reflected upon the story of John the Baptist the wrong way round. Unlike those who heard … pondered … and said: What then will this child become? we know the answers. John, as foretold in the ancient prophecies, will become the forerunner of the Messiah. We are told that as Zechariah praised God, fear came over all their neighbours. We know the impact that John’s ministry will have, and we know how the world will be changed when the one who will be heralded by John, brings the light and life of God into this world.

In the coming days we will be given the opportunity to share all that we have been journeying towards with those amongst whom we live and work. Let us pray that we might no longer be mute, but that we might join Zechariah in praising God with all our heart, and mind and strength.