The naming of John the Baptist was a test of faith

If you have children, you want things to be a certain way for them. You have hopes and dreams. You want them to be safe from harm, grow up well, and thrive. To a certain degree, all us parents want to control our kids and what happens to them. However, God wants us to release our kids to him. And sooner or later we hit crossroads where our willingness to let God have our kids becomes tested. That’s the focus of the story in today’s Christmas season Scripture reading, the naming of John the Baptist in Luke 1:57-80.

This is the event that kicks off the larger Christmas story. It goes roughly like this: announcement of John (the Messiah’s forerunner), announcement of Jesus (the Messiah), birth of John, birth of Jesus.

John was a miracle baby. His parents had been married for decades, but they had been unable to conceive a child. They knew the heartache of watching friends and relatives raise housefuls of children while their house remained quiet. However, one day the angel of Gabriel visited Zechariah to announce that God was going to give them a son, and he would be a great prophet. This was both good news and bad news. In the history of Israel, prophets were not often treated well.

When the day came, the miracle baby was born. This alone was a time of trial. Elizabeth was old, and bearing a child was a very risky thing for her. Infant mortality rates were much higher than they are now. Still, mother and child survived. The promise had been fulfilled. Everyone in town rejoiced over Elizabeth’s blessing!

On the eighth day, the boy was to be circumcised and named. Imagine Elizabeth and Zechariah preparing the house for this momentous event. Finally, the guests arrived – rabbis, priests, friends and relatives. The house would have been packed with rejoicing people. The baby boy was circumcised, thus making him a child of God’s covenant with Abraham.

It was all good. Everything was going smoothly. But now came the test of Elizabeth’s and Zechariah’s faith. They came to the moment of naming the child. The priests said, “Surely this miracle boy should be named after his father, Zechariah. Shall we call him Zechariah son of Zechariah?”

This was the chance for Elizabeth and Zechariah to take control of their baby’s life. Name him Zechariah, and they could take possession of him. Name him John – as the angel had instructed – and they would release him to God. A lot more went in to naming the baby than meets the eye.

Before the ceremony could go on, Elizabeth interrupted and said, “No! The boy is to be named John.” What? A name that comes from nowhere in the family? This was unheard of. We must notice the social pressure that was exerted on both Elizabeth and Zechariah in that moment.

Dismissing her strange answer, the priests turned to Zechariah. Surely he could straighten this out. He had been struck unable to speak throughout the duration of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, so they signed to him and handed him a tablet to write on. “What shall we name this boy?”

Zechariah carefully scrawled, “His name will be John.” He turned the tablet and showed it to them. Cries of astonishment, along with criticism, filled the house. The crowd was fully astonished.

In the naming of the baby, first Elizabeth and then Zechariah had passed the test of faith. Each had the chance to name the baby after Zechariah. Both chose instead to choose the name that came from nowhere in their family: John. Control the child or release the child. Disobey God or obey God. This is what went into that moment.

If you have children, part of the Christmas story is releasing our own kids to God.


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