When the time arrived for Elizabeth to have her child
she gave birth to a son.
Her neighbors and relatives heard
that the Lord had shown his great mercy toward her,
and they rejoiced with her.
When they came on the eighth day to circumcise the child,
they were going to call him Zechariah after his father,
but his mother said in reply,
“No. He will be called John.”
But they answered her,
“There is no one among your relatives who has this name.”
So they made signs, asking his father what he wished him to be called.
He asked for a tablet and wrote, “John is his name,”
and all were amazed.
Immediately his mouth was opened, his tongue freed,
and he spoke blessing God.
Then fear came upon all their neighbors,
and all these matters were discussed
throughout the hill country of Judea.
All who heard these things took them to heart, saying,
“What, then, will this child be?”
For surely the hand of the Lord was with him.
The child grew and became strong in spirit,
and he was in the desert until the day
of his manifestation to Israel.
Luke 1: 57-66, 80
This week we celebrate the birth of John the Baptist. I appreciate this Gospel passage about John being named because I believe that names are sacred. We do not choose our names, but immediately begin to embody the name and respond to it as part of our identity. It feels good to be called by name, to be seen and recognized. We do not choose our own names, but sometimes our parents don’t, either. John’s parents thought they would name him Zechariah before he was born, but God had a new plan. Often parents will have a name in mind until they meet the baby, and another name suddenly seems more appropriate. It seems that the parents, God and the spirit of the baby all have a say in what the very best name will be for a child.
With a name, a child can be called personally into the community. Many faith traditions and cultures have intricate naming ceremonies and rituals. In the Jewish tradition, baby boys like John would be named eight days after birth when the baby is circumcised. In the Catholic tradition, Baptism is a time to welcome a young one into a faith community by name. Like with John, relatives and friends rejoice in our birth often when we are so little that we are not even aware of all the welcome, love and support we are showered with. God washes away our original sin and calls us God’s own.
Our first name shows our individual, unique spirit. That name is put in context of our family name, which roots us in a larger tradition, through our clan, our ancestry. “What, then, will this child be?” they asked of John. Our last name may point to where we come from, but our first name reminds us that we are individuals, too. God does give us power to decide who we will become within the context of our community. John’s spirit was called into the desert. Where is your spirit calling you?
What is the story behind your name? Does your name suit you?
Have you ever heard or felt God call you by name?
Is there a story your family tells from when you were little that demonstrates your unique spirit? (When your family realized your own personality was emerging)
Where does your family come from? What traditions does your family practice that you were born into?