Scripture: Luke 1:57-66
Key verses: (59-60) “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.’”
Reflection: What is the story behind your name? Are you named after family, or perhaps a close friend of your parents? Or were you named after someone famous, or perhaps a biblical character? Or did your parents just like your name? I’m named after my grandfathers, Joseph Michael Clifford and John Henry Troeger. Growing up I was called by a double name: Joe John. What’s the story behind your name?
There is quite a story behind John the Baptist’s name. In fact, it takes up the majority of the first chapter of Luke’s gospel. His parents, Zechariah and Elizabeth had been unable to have children. After winning the clergy lottery to make the offering of incense in the holy of holies, he came face to face with the angel, Gabriel, who told him his wife was going to have a baby. Understandably, he questioned how this could happen, and Gabriel took offense, striking him mute for his lack of faith. Today’s reading relates the story of John’s birth, and his circumcision ceremony. At the point they would name the child, the priest assumes he’ll be named, “Zechariah,” after his father. But Elizabeth tells the priest their son’s name will be “John,” (יוֹחָנָן ,Yochanan in Hebrew,) meaning, “God is gracious.” Zechariah confirms this in writing, and at that moment, his tongue is freed and sings praise to God. Now that’s quite a story behind John’s name!
“God is gracious;” that is the meaning of John’s name. It’s also the meaning of his birth, a gift of grace to a couple who had been unable to have children. It’s the meaning of his life, to announce to coming of the Messiah, and to anoint him in the waters of baptism. God is gracious. This is the central truth of the Gospel. As we near Christmas, John’s name reminds us to prepare our own hearts to receive God’s most gracious gift to the world, the Christ child.
Prayer: Your grace is fresh every morning and sustains us through each day, O God. Thank you. Thank you for your graciousness. Thank you for the gift of this day. Thank you for the breath we just took and the one that, by your grace, we are about to receive. Help us to live in response to your graciousness by living gracefully in this world. Amen.
Author: Joe Clifford
[Scripture quotations are from New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved].