Thursday, 21 June 2012

In the beginning there was John

Sunday Gospel Reflection
GospelLuke 1:57-66,80

The time came for Elizabeth to have her child, and she gave birth to a son; and when her neighbours and relations heard that the Lord had shown her so great a kindness, they shared her joy.
  Now on the eighth day they came to circumcise the child; they were going to call him Zechariah after his father, but his mother spoke up. ‘No,’ she said ‘he is to be called John.’ They said to her, ‘But no one in your family has that name’, and made signs to his father to find out what he wanted him called. The father asked for a writing-tablet and wrote, ‘His name is John.’ And they were all astonished. At that instant his power of speech returned and he spoke and praised God. All their neighbours were filled with awe and the whole affair was talked about throughout the hill country of Judaea. All those who heard of it treasured it in their hearts. ‘What will this child turn out to be?’ they wondered. And indeed the hand of the Lord was with him.
  Meanwhile the child grew up and his spirit matured. And he lived out in the wilderness until the day he appeared openly to Israel.

“In every crowd are certain persons who seem just like the rest, yet they bear amazing messages.” ― Antoine de Saint-ExupĂ©ry

Recently I have been taking part in the registration of new students for the next academic year. Part of the interview is getting some background information.

At one time I used to fill it in from the informal conversation we were having - now I often have to ask the student to complete the first part of the form because I won't know how to spell her first name. Over a number of years the choice of first name for children has become more and more obscure and idiosyncratic.

Even if it is a 'known' name there will be a particular way of spelling and then there are names that are picked from music personalities; cities and states; characters in films; seasons of the year; flowers -  you name it really.  

It seems that parents today want their child to stand out from the crowd from the very first moment of their birth - it is extraordinarily important to be seen as unique and individual. 

Not so in John's time. A sense of belonging and lineage marked every name. As we see from the beginning of Matthew's Gospel the family tree told everything about a person. Born into the prestige of a priest clan the friends and relatives would have certainly expected Elizabeth's longed for son to be named after a revered ancestor if not his own father.

Given the circumstances of the pregnancy, late in life and with the mystery of Zechariah's loss of voice, there must have been mutterings about who exactly was the father; perhaps this 'joy' had other beginnings?

Of course, we have read the Gospel and we know that this child is a sign that 'God is gracious' - the meaning of John. The nature of John's birth is as unique as any child.  But the reason for his birth -   more so. 

John is born to die; and not only to die but to be 'death'. Like his cousin, Jesus, his life is more than the sum of his years - his dying will mean more than the loss of one man.  In fact, from this moment of his birth he is a witness to the end; the death of the old covenant; the death of the prophets of old; the death of the long silence when God did not speak to his people. 

John is the sign that God is gracious. That despite our many weaknesses, God's love can make the barren flourish; that when we are speechless with doubt, God can find the words to bring us home; that when God asks much of us then the Spirit will always be with us  

Through his name, John has left behind his family and became part of the Holy Family - the family of 'yes'.

With John we are told that we are not tied to the past; we are not judged by where we come from, what we have done or who we know; that our future in not mapped out in stars or heraldry or custom. 

We are the Father's own; the Spirit's own; Jesus' own - we have a path that no-one else has set foot on.

With John we celebrate both his birth and his death because they both mean the same thing; a new Way is on the way. 


The most happy man is he who knows how to bring into relation the end and beginning of his life.  Johann Wolfgang von Goethe


claire said...

Such a hopeful post, Word :-) Thank you.

Word in the Hand said...

A hope I have to believe in Claire - blessings :-)

Lynda said...

There are many messages in this Gospel. One that stuck out for me is "they shared her joy". As Christians we are asked to be there for others and to share their joy and their difficult times. God bless.

Lynda said...

I really appreciate this line: "With John we are told that we are not tied to the past". We all have a past and it is good to know that whatever happened in the past is not an impediment to our present life. Thank you.