Reading today’s text regarding the naming of John (the Baptist) is like walking into the production of a play during the second act. It is one of those where you had better know what happened in the first act, or you will be lost. Here is the brief synopsis: Zechariah (God has remembered) and Elizabeth (God’s promise) are considered well past child bearing years, but God has decided to give them a child. The Angel Gabriel (Strong one of God) appeared to Zachariah in the temple and told him of God’s plan, even telling him to name the child John (God is gracious). Zachariah did not believe Gabriel, so he was stricken mute until everything came to pass. Is everyone up to speed now? Good.
As the story concerns the naming of a child, I thought that it might be helpful to look at the meanings of all of the names in the story. While names were selected based on family (as shown in the text), the meanings of the names are also extremely important. This is not the case when names are chosen for children today. We selected the name Adrienne for our first born daughter. We chose it because we thought that it sounded pretty. We never gave a thought to the meaning of the name, “dark one.” Our Adrienne is a fair skinned blond. She is, however, as pretty as the name sounds.
My parents named me David, which means “beloved one.” I would like to think that they selected the name for its meaning, but alas they did not. In John’s case his parents did not select the name for him. It was given to him by God, via Gabriel. Others wanted a more familiar family name. (If you have ever named a child, you are aware of the assistance some family members are willing to give.) Elizabeth and Zechariah were faithful to what God had told them, and they named him John.
In our text the names of those involved give us a very strong hint that God is about to do something wonderful. John (God is gracious), the forerunner of the promised Messiah has been born. God is about to be more gracious than anyone can possibly imagine. God himself is about to enter human history. John is born to Zechariah (God has remembered) and Elizabeth (God’s promise). God has remembered his promises through the prophets to send the Messiah and redeem his people.
In “Romeo and Juliet” William Shakespeare has Juliet say, “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” (II, ii, 1-2) In this story there is much in a name; as the time for the fulfillment of God’s plan of salvation is drawing neigh. The same Angel Gabriel (Strong one of God) who appeared to Zechariah came to Mary in Nazareth and said, “You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus (Yahweh saves).” God himself names the child, who will be born to save the world. (I know of no other time in history when someone was able to select their own name before their birth.)
Yahweh himself, the Lord our God selects the name that sums up the whole of the story. God remembers his promise to save his people. The story is starting to unfold as God places his key players in position. The story of how Yahweh saves is about to begin. Here comes Christmas!