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.
Today we witness the end of Zechariah’s nine months of enforced silence, a silence that was imposed upon him because he doubted the message of Gabriel. Today we share in the joy of Zechariah and Elizabeth as their son is born. We gather around the joyous parents, alongside their neighbours and relatives, and rejoice at the Lord’s great mercy to them in their old age. But, this is so much more than the gathering of friends and family at the safe delivery of a much longed-for baby boy. This is the birth of the one long foretold, the forerunner and herald of the Messiah.
As is the custom in the Jewish faith, on the eighth day after the birth of the baby, the parents brought him for circumcision and naming. Circumcision being the physical sign of the covenant between God and his chosen people; the naming being, traditionally, the placing of the new child within the lineage of the family into which he had been born. But … all did not go as expected.
Zechariah was still silent. The gathered assembly assumed that the baby would be named after his father. But, no, his mother, Elizabeth, spoke up and said that he was to be named, ‘John’. Such a break with custom would have caused much consternation. Why was Elizabeth breaking with the long-held traditions of their faith? Why was she insisting that their miraculous baby should be called by a name that broke the line with that stretched back into history? For those who had gathered for this important moment in the child’s life, the solution was obvious … ask the boy’s father!
In his silence, Zechariah wrote the name by which his son was to be known, and that name was, ‘John’. In that moment, in that declaration of faith in the message of the angel some nine months earlier, Zechariah’s silence was ended. He could speak, and his first words were words of praise to God.
The moment must have been one of great wonder because we read that fear came over all their neighbours. Not only did fear come over them but, all these things were talked about through the entire hill country of Judea. We also read that all who witnessed this great moment pondered upon the words they had heard.
In just two days’ time we will hear again a great message from God. We will hear of the birth of his Son, Jesus, the Christ. How will we react to that Good News? Will we continue with our festival of excess and self-indulgence, or will we pause and ponder the words of the Christmas message? Will we allow our tongues to be loosed in order that we might proclaim the wonder of Christ’s birth, or will we continue to journey in silence, wrapping up our excitement and joy as we dismantle the worldly trappings we now consider to be an essential part of the story of Christmas?
Let us pray that we might join Zechariah in knowing the wonder of our tongues being loosed in order that we might praise God and lead others into pondering the true message of this season.