Now the time came for Elizabeth to give birth, and she bore a son. Her neighbours 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 neighbours, 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.
I am amused by one of my friends, who frequently remarks, “It is never going to happen. Not in a million years.” Up until nine months earlier the couple at the heart of today’s reading might well have used that phrase. The joy of becoming parents was never going to happen. Not in a million years. And Zechariah – despite being a priest – was, literally, silenced by disbelief. Yet here we find them rejoicing. (Or, in the case of Zechariah, on the eighth day he is finally able to sing his praises!) John’s birth is cause for rejoicing. It is truly good news. Something that, humanly speaking, was never going to happen through God’s mercy does happen. In common with Elizabeth’s relative, Mary, this couple can proclaim that “the Lord has done great things” for them. Holy is his Name!
This special baby could well have ended up with his dad’s name. Yet both Elizabeth and Zechariah were agreed: ‘His name is John.’ Was it purely coincidental that it was at the point the two of them agreed on the name for this gift of God that Zechariah’s mouth was re-opened, his tongue freed and he began speaking and praising God? I’d like to think not. There is such liberating joy when any of us discover a bond and affinity with others in appreciating the goodness and generosity of God: mouths and hearts are opened, tongues are freed and God is praised.
In two days’ time the Church will celebrate the birth of a baby to whom Elizabeth and Zechariah’s lad will play ‘second fiddle’. As we anticipate that birth let us give thanks for any and all whose lives and love defy those who have concluded, “It is never going to happen. Not in a million years.”
Almighty God, when we witness your mercy and goodness may our mouths be opened and our tongues freed to give you praise.
We give thanks for those whose birth means most to us: those in whose love and lives we find joy, encouragement and affinity.
Grant comfort and consolation to those who, today, know the sadness that was to afflict Elizabeth and Zechariah: the grief of losing one beloved. In the Name of Jesus. Amen.
The Rev’d Geoffrey Clarke, Minister, The Crossing (Methodist & United Reformed) Church, Worksop and Wales Kiveton Methodist Church