And we’re back to John the Baptizer. There is a lot going on in this story. We have more words indicating that the gentile Luke wants us to know that he knows Jewish custom, but that’s not the only reason he gives us these customary details. He’s got John being circumcised on the 8th day, but more importantly in this case, he’s got the issue of naming. Remember John’s father (Zechariah) cannot speak (although here it appears that he cannot hear either, as evidenced in verse 62 by the people needing to “motion” to him to talk to him). It was the Father’s job to name the child. That is how a child was named. In Matthew there is a very important verse, which we easily blow right through, after Jesus is born and it says, “and he [Joseph] named him Jesus”. In doing the naming Joseph essentially adopted Jesus as his own son. Here in Luke Zechariah can’t do it because he can’t talk nor hear, so the rest of the family get to weigh in (more evidence of an overtly sexist culture; never mind the woman who carried him for nine months and delivered him). Names were a big, big deal in those days. A person’s name spoke to their character and nature, and you would want that character and nature to reflect some kind of value from the family, so you usually named someone after someone else in the family. But here the name is to be “John”, a name with which there is no family connection. It is the name given to Elizabeth and Zechariah through an angel and by God. Why is all this important?
Well, it’s important for many reasons, but one strikes me in particular: God is doing new things. So this child is not necessarily going to follow in the family traditions. He’s going to do a whole set of new things and be a different kind of person. This is why the crowds ask, “what then will this child become?” That is to say, “what kind of person is this going to be?” We don’t know. God is doing new things, and we all just have to wait and see and trust that though it all may be weird, and though it all may be uncomfortable, we must trust that it’s good, and we must courageously and faithfully step into it.
I think it begs the question, “what new things is God doing around us today?” And are we okay with stepping into and embracing those new things? Culture has been changing and continues to change at a radical pace all around us. Within it, God is doing new things. Do we have the courage to release what has been and step into what will be?