Christmas meant a New Name for a baby: Luke 1:57-66
The neighbors were thrilled for Elizabeth (they do not mention Zechariah), and they understood her pregnancy and birth as the “great mercy” of the Lord. On the day of circumcision, the name is to be given – and the inevitable, traditional, customary, time-without-end practice of naming a boy after his father was suddenly interrupted by a word, once again, from Elizabeth. Zechariah is still silenced.
“His name is to be John,” she says. This is not a family name. John will instead by covenanted with a new name: “YHWH has given grace.” Since Zechariah was not yet speaking, we have to ask how Elizabeth knew to call the boy “John” – either Zechariah wrote it out for her, too, or this is a collusion of miracles – the Gabriel who told Zechariah what to name the boy also told Elizabeth. Hard to know; no reason to be dogmatic. Still, the text itself creates the tension and invites us to think about it.
Zechariah is not permitted to speak until he writes words down that confirm Elizabeth’s choice of names: he then has a tongue that is set free.
The sheer marvel of it all made everyone in the neighborhood wonder just what kind of role John might play in Israel’s history. No destiny’s child, John will be history’s child – the one God will use to announce the Messiah.
One cannot but help to reflect on John’s name: he will be a manifestation of God’s grace. How so? Not only do Zechariah and Elizabeth have a child after waiting all these years, but he will point the way to the one Who is Grace, he will point others into the Waters of Grace, and he will offer all Israel the Opportunity for Grace through repentance. In John, God begins to open the curtains of grace for Israel – the long-awaited days will now come to an end as a new era begins.