25 June 2012Luke 1:57-66, 80
"He is to be called John." (v. 60)
The insight and steadfastness of women is central both to the
beginning and end of Luke's Gospel: Mary, Elizabeth and Anna in the
birth stories, the female disciples of Jesus at the cross and empty
tomb. Elizabeth is clear about God's intention and John's name,
even though, in a patriarchal society, Zechariah has to at least
appear to have the final say. Zechariah has been struck dumb
because he did not accept the angel Gabriel's prophecy at face
value (Luke 1:5-20) and now the villagers exert social
pressure on Elizabeth to give her baby a conventional family name
(verses 61-62). But Elizabeth's stubbornness - and God's purposes -
win out in the end. Prophecy has been fulfilled.
But the story does not end there. It moves from the fulfilment of prophecy to a new, forward-looking, prophecy. Verse 66 asks the question: "What then will this child become?" The answer is given in the Song of Zechariah (verses 68-79), traditionally called 'The Benedictus' from the Latin for its opening word 'blessed' (v. 68). Although omitted from today's passage, it is traditionally included in the order for morning prayer. Through John, the way will be prepared for the Lord's return. God's promised liberation will come to God's people; it will lead them away from fear and captivity and towards forgiveness, salvation, holiness, light and peace. John, in other words, is to be the forerunner of Jesus.
All that remains hidden in the future as John grows up to be 'strong in spirit' and moves out into the wilderness of Judaea (Luke 3:2). The wilderness was traditionally a place of fear; wild beasts and evil forces were at large. But it was also the place where people (like the Essenes who made their home near the shore of the Dead Sea) went to find a fresh vision of God and a more focused life of prayer.
What social pressures do you have to resist if you are to accept God's challenge and share in God's purpose and will?
What has happened to you recently that makes you want to praise God?
How might you find a 'wilderness' where you can deepen your relationship with God?