The Birth of John
57Now the time came for Elizabeth to give birth, and she bore a son. 58Her neighbors and relatives heard that the Lord had shown his great mercy to her, and they rejoiced with her.
The Circumcision and the Naming of John
59On the eighth day they came to circumcise the child, and they were going to name him Zechariah after his father. 60But his mother said, “No; he is to be called John.” 61They said to her, “None of your relatives has this name.” 62Then they began motioning to his father to find out what name he wanted to give him. 63He asked for a writing tablet and wrote, “His name is John.” And all of them were amazed. 64Immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue freed, and he began to speak, praising God.
65Fear came over all their neighbors, and all these things were talked about throughout the entire hill country of Judea. 66All who heard them pondered them and said, “What then will this child become?” For, indeed, the hand of the Lord was with him.
Pointers for Homily Reflection
Today’s gospel talks about three events in the life of John the Baptist: His birth, circumcision (8th day after birth) and the giving of the name- -John. As one reads closely, one realizes that to these events are enter-twined the themes of promise and fulfillment (the Zechariah Story); Salvation story continued (Birth of John the Baptist), and Faith-Journey (the Parents of John).
Elizabeth, on the day of the birth of John, re-discovered the true reason for her continued faith despite the unimaginable delay of the graciousness of God on her. Zechariah, as he penned the name “John”, on the day of the circumcision of the child, was totally transformed from a priest who used to be content simply with the temple liturgy to one who would speaks about the greatness of God, the role of his son John and the Salvation to be brought about for the people Israel. What a great transformation to the personhood of both Zechariah and Elizabeth. They understood quite well what the phrase– “nothing is impossible with God” (Lk 1:37) really meant.
What the birth of John meant to his Parents
Zechariah and Elizabeth, prior to the birth of John were considered as models of the Jewish faith. They were a special type of Jews for they were righteous before the eyes of God and before the eyes of the law. On a very personal level, they knew well the Torah and they lived out its demands throughout their lives. Luke tells us that both were, “… righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless.” (1:6)
However, both, despite their blamelessness before the law and their worthiness of the blessing of God, had one great obstacle to struggle with: God seemed not to be so gracious as to bless them with a child. An ordinary person might think for himself or herself and say “What reason is there to persevere in righteousness before God and his laws when God, after all the human patience and hope, remains to be distant, absent and at worst least concerned?”
But God is never outdone in graciousness. He gives his best gift at the best time and at the most appropriate occasion. The birth of John, sometimes humanly considered as an overdue grace, was a solemn pronouncement that nothing is impossible with God when it comes to the liberation and salvation of humanity. God will suspend nature’s law, if only to tell humanity of how serious God is to re-claim us as His beloved sons and daughters. Elizabeth discovered for herself the point of God. For this she must be obedient to name the child “John” despite the protest of his neighbors and cousins. For to Elizabeth, the birth of John was the advent of the outpouring of the great mercy of God to her and for the rest of Israel.
Elizabeth never gave up on the goodness of God. Victory is sweetest to those who persevere to the end. And this is the case of Elizabeth. The birth of John was a great Joy to her; also it signals the beginning of the fulfillment of the divine promise of Salvation to humanity.
To Zechariah, the birth of John was the most telling of all experiences. First, he was reluctant to believe that towards the sunset of his life the blessing of a child was yet possible. This was the content of his disbelief: “I am old, my wife is advanced age.” He surrendered to and was resigned to the fact that they were to pass-away without having the greatest of all blessings–a child. Second, because of his unbelief, the sign was upon him “You will be silent and unable to speak until the day that these things come to pass, because you did not believe my [angel’s] words which will be fulfilled in their time”(Lk 1:20).
With a stretch of imagination one can figure out the feelings of Zechariah on the occasion of the circumcision and naming of his son. Zechariah, who remained unable to speak, is reduced to a mere audience than the actor in this most important event in his son’s life. With Elizabeth’s suggestion to name him John, Zechariah must be smiling for finally his “silence” will be broken. However, with the reasonable and logical protest, probably of their neighbors and relatives, to name his son his Junior, Zechariah’s blood pressure must have surged to dangerous levels.
With the loosing of his tongue, was a realization that there is no sense in doubting the graciousness of God; with the return of his power of speech was a re-awakening of the deep faith and hope in the loving promise of God to save Israel and the rest of his people. This experience transformed Zechariah a lot. Previously, he is pictured as righteous priest content with offering incense in the temple, a priest limited to temple liturgy and worship. With the new experience with God, this priest is now turned into a dynamic prophet. He will speak of the great role his son has for the salvation of mankind and he will speak of the certainty of the salvation that God had prepared for Israel and the rest of humanity.