57 Now the time came for Elizabeth to give birth, and she bore a son. 58Her neighbors and relatives heard that the Lord had shown his great mercy to her, and they rejoiced with her.
59 On the eighth day they came to circumcise the child, and they were going to name him Zechariah after his father. 60But his mother said, ‘No; he is to be called John.’ 61They said to her, ‘None of your relatives has this name.’ 62Then they began motioning to his father to find out what name he wanted to give him. 63He asked for a writing-tablet and wrote, ‘His name is John.’ And all of them were amazed. 64Immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue freed, and he began to speak, praising God. 65Fear came over all their neighbors, and all these things were talked about throughout the entire hill country of Judea. 66All who heard them pondered them and said, ‘What then will this child become?’ For, indeed, the hand of the Lord was with him.
This is the Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.
This is quite a moment for Elizabeth and Zechariah. The path that has led them here has been a wild and messy one. In a patriarchal society where a woman’s value was tied to her ability to bear children (and where it was always somehow the woman’s fault if a couple couldn’t conceive), Elizabeth had lived into her old age saddled with the shame her society placed on her back for her life without children. And after the angel Gabriel appeared to Zechariah during his normal duties as a temple priest with the announcement that Elizabeth would bear a son to be named John, Zechariah had responded with understandable questions of doubt, which caused the angel to render him mute until the baby was born. And now that the baby has been born, Elizabeth and Zechariah have a community of neighbors and relatives around them, rejoicing in this long-awaited birth, a miracle. Not only is it a time of great reversal, with joy at this unexpected event in Elizabeth and Zechariah’s story, but it is a time thick with their community’s expectations. Their neighbors and relatives show up on the 8th day after the baby was born to circumcise him, ready to continue the tradition of patriarchy where the son received the name of the father, Zechariah. In this moment, Elizabeth and Zechariah must decide how to respond, not only to the community’s pressures, but to the invitation from God to be a part of God’s surprising activity in the world.
As fantastical as these stories can feel, I wonder how our own lives connect with Elizabeth and Zechariah’s. Perhaps we are familiar with societal shame the way Elizabeth was for decades – living in a culture that tells us that our bodies need to shrink or grow to fit a certain standard, that certain experiences in our past make us unworthy of belonging, that we are too young to have any real wisdom to offer the community or too old to still be of use in a fast-paced world or too [fill in the blank] to be welcome in the family of God. Maybe we know what it feels like to doubt and challenge and question God like Zechariah, to hear the good news in our lives and struggle to receive it because our intellect cannot grasp it and we are brave enough to honestly voice our questions. I wonder if we can relate to this moment Elizabeth and Zechariah find themselves in, surrounded by voices telling them to just accept the pathway of patriarchy, to return to a story their community is comfortable with, that everyone in their culture will be able to understand. We can hear this voice loud and clear in a holiday season situated in this ever-prolonging pandemic as our capitalist culture tells us through commercials to return to our “normal” consumerism and greed even when nothing is normal and the world is still aching under the weight of injustice. With all of these scars and experiences and pressures swirling around Elizabeth and Zechariah and around us, how will they respond to this moment? How will we respond?
“On the eighth day [Elizabeth and Zechariah’s community] came to circumcise the child, and they were going to name him Zechariah after his father.” Elizabeth and Zechariah could have gone this direction, with the flow of their culture, a culture based in scarcity, where you always gave the son the father’s name because there’s only so much to go around and claiming the family line for your own name was a way to grab whatever you could in this life for yourself and your family. But Elizabeth did something brave, and Zechariah followed her lead: “But [Elizabeth] said, ‘No; he is to be called John.’ They said to her, ‘None of your relatives has this name.’ Then they began motioning to his father to find out what name he wanted to give him. He asked for a writing-tablet and wrote, ‘His name is John.’ And all of them were amazed.” John, ee-o-an’-nace in the Greek, which I learned this week means “Jehovah is a gracious giver.” Even after all they had been through, even surrounded by voices trying to push them into the familiar pathway of scarcity, grab-all-you-can-get-for-yourself thinking, Elizabeth and Zechariah resist by naming their son according to the angel’s command, a name that is the opposite of scarcity, a name that means God’s generosity and abundance. God has been at work in their story, and Elizabeth and Zechariah, as human and wounded and messy as their lives have been, say yes to the bold movement of God in their midst. And it is this moment of resistance that lays the foundation for John, their baby boy, to prepare the way for a Savior who, in Zechariah’s own Spirit-filled words, will “guide our feet into the way of peace.”
Friends, even with all of your scars and life experiences and society’s pressures swirling around you, God is inviting you to speak a word of abundance in the midst of scarcity. You, exactly as you are, are called to act in bold resistance to pave the way for the generation coming after you. What might this look like? I recently saw Elizabeth and Zechariah’s bold ‘yes’ to God’s invitation embodied so clearly when I learned of a collective called “1000 Grandmothers”. In October 2016, “moved by the courage and wisdom of the [Indigenous] grandmothers” resisting the building of an oil pipeline on Sioux tribal lands at Standing Rock, a half dozen ordinary, elder women from California started meeting together to dream of ways they could stand in solidarity with those grandmothers at Standing Rock who were putting their bodies on the line to resist the expansion of fossil fuels. I wept this week as I watched a video from about 6 months ago of grandmas, grandpas, aunties, uncles, and all kinds of elders holding pictures of their children and grandchildren in front of the Minnesota governor’s house, demanding that the governor halt construction on the Line 3 tar sands pipeline that threatens to destroy the waters of the Anishinaabe tribe’s homeland and beyond all in the name of corporate greed. These elders could have listened to a society that told them to give up hope, to just stay home and mind their business, but instead, they gathered with powerful words of hope and singing and protest, risking themselves with boldness. They are resisting the scarcity mindset of extractive industries like fossil fuels that take and take as if there’s not enough. They are choosing to speak instead a word of abundance over their children and grandchildren in defiant hope that a world of peace is possible.
I want to close this time with the last few minutes of this video I watched so you can be among these ordinary saints, people just like you, who are bringing their messy, beautiful lives to the Creator as an offering in the spirit of Elizabeth and Zechariah. As you take in the images and the music of these everyday saints calling on the halls of power to protect future generations and our planet, ask God to speak to you about how you are called to into movements that resist scarcity and boldly celebrate abundance. Whose pictures would you be holding in your hands or posting on the wall to remind you of the reason you fight for a better world? The end of the video gazes out on the waters that these grandmas, grandpas, aunties, uncles, and so many more are fighting to protect. May those waters remind you of your own baptism, where you were first named, just like John, for the abundant love of our God. And may each of us be swept up in the wild resistance of our Creator so that, as the song you’re about to hear says, “in this Great Turning we shall learn to lead in love.”
Start at minute 7:00.