25 June 2012

Luke 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.

To Ponder

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?

Bible notes author

The Revd Dr Richard Clutterbuck

Richard Clutterbuck is a minister of the Methodist Church in Britain but since 2004 has served the Irish Methodist Church as principal of Edgehill Theological College in Belfast. His ministry has been divided between pastoral appointments in North London and theological education in the South Pacific (Tonga), Britain and Ireland.