23 December 2015

Luke 1:57-66

“What then will this child become?” (v. 66)

Psalm: Psalm 25


In chapter one of Luke's Gospel, Zechariah has been promised by God's angel that his wife Elizabeth, although past child-bearing age, will have a son, to be called John (Luke 1:5-20). He will be a prophet like Isaiah. (In Luke 3:4-6 John is described as fulfilling the prophecy in Isaiah 40:3-5.) When Zechariah asks how to trust the promise he is told that he will be speechless until the child is born. Today's passage picks up the story. It is puzzling because he appears to be deaf as will as speechless, but elsewhere in the Gospels it is assumed that the two go together, perhaps because those who are born deaf usually have speech difficulties as well.

Against family expectations both Elizabeth and Zechariah independently insist that the child should be called John, and this restores Zechariah's speech. For Luke the whole episode is evidence that God is at work, evoking wonder and praise.

John the Baptist is important in the Gospels, both as a prophet who calls the people to repentance and as the one who draws attention away from himself to Jesus who is to follow him and build upon his ministry.

Of course a name in the ancient world was frequently more than a simple way of identifying a person. It expressed relationships and expectations of what the child was to become. The name 'John' means 'God is gracious', and while Luke does not draw attention to the fact, perhaps he expected some at least of his readers to know it. It is certainly appropriate in this case!

Verse 65 speaks of 'fear' overcoming the neighbours. 'Awe' would be a better word, because we are not to think simply of terror, but of an awareness of God at work. But sadly, 'awesome' has been weakened to become just an everyday word for 'amazing'.

To Ponder

  • Have you ever felt that a young person you knew was marked out to be special? Why? How did the person turn out? If you were disappointed, why?
  • Have you ever experienced a genuine sense of awe? How would you describe it? What provoked it?
  • Should the names we give children express our hopes for them?

Bible notes author

The Revd Brian Beck

Brian Beck is a Methodist minister, now retired, and a former president and secretary of the Methodist Conference. A large part of his ministry has been spent in theological education, both in Limuru, Kenya, and in Cambridge, England..