...they were going to name him after his father Zechariah. But his mother replied, “No! He shall be called John.”
They said to her, “There is no one among your relatives who bears this name.” So they made signs to his father to inquire what he wanted to name the child. Zechariah asked for a tablet and wrote, “His name is John.” And they were all amazed.
His name is John.
During most of the year, we might hear this statement and all it would serve to do is bring to mind all of our acquaintances named John -- no offense, but we all have at least one.
However, many of us have recently heard the Christmas story read anew at home or in church. I have. Thus, in coming fresh out of Advent, and lingering in a season of Christmastide - a few right-on-schedule epiphanies have emerged.
-A husband to the barren Elizabeth
-A faithful priest offering prayers and incense in the temple
This is the man chosen by God to father John, the ‘harbinger and forerunner’ to Jesus.
The angel, Gabriel, who stands in the very presence of God,
This is the one sent to deliver this most astonishing news: a long awaited, but very geriatric pregnancy --unbelievable, really.
Zechariah’s response to the good news?
Well...there is no, “Be it unto me according to your word.” as Mary would soon respond in being given her own shocking news from the very same Gabriel. No, Zechariah in his unbelief asks Gabriel for a sign (as if having an angel show up and speak with you isn’t sign enough).
And, from that moment on, and for the duration of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, Zechariah would not utter another word. He was silenced - made mute and deaf. Was this punishment, was it blessing, or was it - in its own consequential way - the sign he’d asked for? For whatever reason, it was necessary. Like Elizabeth, he needed to live in a certain solitary confinement.
As the promised son grew within Elizabeth’s womb - I wonder what was growing in Zechariah.
Nine months to consider his faux pas.
Nine months for expectancy to grow.
Nine months to work through the doubt.
Nine months to be astonished.
Nine months to settle within his own soul that his son would not bear his very own name, a custom, nor that of any known ancestor or relative.
Almost 300 days to give no voice to doubt or wonder, regret or relinquishment --not even to utter a verbal prayer.
Zechariah, I had not realized how much I have resonated with you.
I’ve felt like this. Those seasons of feeling spiritually mute. Barren and lifeless prayers. Long seasons of emptiness. Echoes of remembrance and whispers of promise - hard of hearing and no voice.
But, at the right time, Elizabeth’s womb was opened and John was born.
And, at the right time, Zechariah’s mouth was opened, his tongue loosed - and we find what had long been incubating within him.
Immediately Zechariah’s mouth was opened and his tongue was released,
and he began to speak, praising God.
He praised! He prophesied! He blessed! Nine silent months and a literal pregnant pause ends with a filling of the Holy Spirit - an unleashing of worship, blessing, and song.
With this story fresh in our memory, a friend recently prayed for me. That the new year would bring an end to this season of feeling “mute” in my prayers and the lack of creative, life-giving voice. That, as Zechariah, I would be released to create and bless and praise God afresh.
I now pray the same for you, dear readers.
There is something else. A final insight that is shaping my perspective and prayers for ministry in this new year.
Sometimes in our vocation or ministry we want to put our name, our identity, on the things God is birthing through us --a work in which we have poured our hearts and souls but, in truth belongs to Him.
And we sense the voice of the Lord saying, “No. His name is John.”
In other words, this work belongs to the Lord and is completely His doing.
It is separate from us and has its own identity.
We can only release our claims, extend blessing, marvel, and take joy.
In this new year, may our prayer be as the psalmist,
“Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will declare your praise.”
And... in whatever way we are allowed to participate with Him in the new things He is birthing or old things He is continuing, may we make it our prayer, and now write it plainly for all to see,
“This one belongs to the Lord - His name is John.”