Now the time came for Elizabeth to give birth, and she bore a son. Her neighbors 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 neighbors, 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 (Luke 1:57-66).
Waiting. Waiting for an offspring. Waiting for a voice. Waiting for salvation. We all know what it is to exist in a state of waiting, but what do we expect, and how do we respond? Waiting can leads us in at least two directions: despair or hope. With despair can come the sense of entitlement; I am waiting for what is mine. Hope is situated within the context of God’s ongoing faithfulness.
Elizabeth and Zechariah have spent their lives in wait and at the birth of their son have chosen to remain hopeful – that is see their ‘blessing’ as a gift from God not something they had a ‘right’ to. One way we see their hope is in the way they go about naming their son. In this passage, we see there was an expectation that the newborn be named for the father, Zechariah. When asked the name of the child, however, Elizabeth and Zechariah dramatically relinquished their parental ‘right’ to carry on the family name and the legacy. Because Elizabeth and Zechariah were willing to view their long awaited blessing (to have an heir) within the context of God’s faithfulness, John’s life was freed to be a blessing for all Israel.
Rather than welcome the child as a blessing for their family alone, Zechariah prophesies that John’s life will bless all Israel. The mercy shown through John will include forgiveness of sins, salvation from enemies, and spreading light to those in darkness. Most importantly, he would guide them in the way of peace. After Zechariah’s prophetic acceptance of his child as a gift from God, the passage tells the reader that John was in the wilderness until he appeared publicly. The long-awaited gift of a child, accepted, rejoiced over, and left to God’s purposes.
As we approach the birth of our first child (name, please?), it is hard to imagine giving up our child to the purposes of God the way we see Sarah and Abraham do with Isaac or Elizabeth and Zechariah with John. To give these blessings back after we have waited and labored so long seems at first glance foolish, even unfaithful. But in the context of God’s faithfulness to us, we receive every gift, even the gift of life, as a gift which is not our own. In fact, God continually calls us to turn around and freely give up the gift. Advent is most centrally about God giving up his own child to be a blessing for the world. Are we, like Elizabeth and Zechariah, prepared to accept the gift (of even a child) and turn around and give it back to God for the sake of the world?
This is a short devotional reflection my wife and I co-wrote this weekend for our church advent reader.