Tuesday, December 15, 2009

"His Name Is John"

“Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel,
because he has come to his people and redeemed them.
He has raised up a horn of salvation for us
in the house of his servant David… (Luke 1:68-69)

“His name is John.”

The angel was very clear. Our son – Elizabeth’s and mine – would be called John. You’d think that God would have much more important things to do than choose the name of our kid. Then again, his birth was anything but usual.

For starters, Elizabeth and I are – well, “well along in years” is a nice way to put it. I hope he’ll be out of diapers before we’re in them, if you want to know the truth of the matter. Elizabeth’s prayed faithfully for a child for our entire life together, but, honestly, I had given up hope. Wouldn’t have said that to her, of course, but with every year that passed I knew the chances got worse. I know – it’s not like God hasn’t done it before. We’re not nearly as old as Abraham and Sarah were. Still, when we take him out people will mistake him for our grandson.

I guess that’s why I didn’t believe it. People always ask me that: “Zechariah, why didn’t you just believe that angel?” I know, it sounds stupid: an angel appears and tells me I’m going to have a child, and I doubt his word? It wasn’t, I guess, that I didn’t believe God could give us children in our, umm, golden years if he wanted to. I just doubted that he would want to. I mean, I’m not Abraham, and Elizabeth isn’t Sarah. We’re not building a nation here. We’re just an old priest and his wife who were getting used to the notion that we’d never have children.

Believe me, I’ve had plenty of time to think about what I said. I’ve replayed in my head countless times. The angel speaks, and I say something like, “I am the Lord’s servant. May it be to me as you have said.” Honestly, though, what I actually said was a lot more honest: “How can I possibly believe this?”

Apparently I didn’t get points for honesty. Nine months is a long time when your wife is pregnant and you can’t talk. (Though, actually, Elizabeth now thinks all men should temporarily lose the power of speech when their wives are expecting…) Not having the ability to speak certainly gives you the chance to listen, though. And think. And pray. Everyone else has been talking: about my story, about Elizabeth’s pregnancy, about what it all means. Everyone’s got a theory, and they all want everyone else to hear it.

I think that’s why Gabriel told me I couldn’t speak until John was born. I thought at first it was punishment, but I don’t think so anymore. It makes more sense to me now that he took away my voice so that I could shut up for a little while about my own agenda and pay some attention to God’s. Thinking back to that day at the temple, I was going on so much about not being able to believe what God said that I couldn’t really hear him.

Like I said, though – I’ve had plenty to time to think about it since then. And when I finally stopped talking, God visited me with some understanding.

God only does things like what happened to Elizabeth and me when cataclysmic things are happening in the world. The last time something like this happened, God created a nation for himself.

Now he’s doing it again. I’ve been thinking a lot about what Gabriel said about our son: “Many of the people of Israel will he bring back to the Lord their God. And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the parents to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous—to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.” He told me, that day, but I just couldn’t hear him. Our son will call God’s people back to him, like the prophets of old. His birth is the sign that God is coming to redeem us, to save us from our enemies. He’ll forgive our sins and come to us in his mercy like the sunrise at the end of a long, dark night. He’s going to show us that the covenant he made so long ago means something to him – even though we’ve taken it too lightly.

And when he comes, our son will prepare the way for him. He will bring “the knowledge of salvation” to us, the people God loves so dearly.

Oh, I don’t know any more than you do how it will happen. I just know that it will. In one way or another, God will come to save his people – just like he’s always done. He’ll come in judgment, in righteousness, and – for those who want it – in peace. You can write it down. You can quote me on it.

On second thought, don’t quote me. The most significant thing I ever said was something I never actually said. “His name is John.” Not that it would matter to God’s plan if I named him Fred or Garth or Aloysious. I like “John,” though. It has a nice ring. And it has come to mean something to me. It signifies the day I stopped doubting God, stopped dictating to him how he should behave, and learned to shut up and trust him. “If you say his name’s John, Lord, then John it is.”

Maybe that speaks to you where you live. If so, then I’m glad. Trust me – it’s never wrong to shut up and trust the Lord. He won’t always do things the way you would, or when you would. I can guarantee you that. Sometimes people will look at you like you’re crazy when you decide to shut up and trust God. “John? Where did you get John?” they’ll say. Or, you know, something like that. But when they question, and wonder, and argue, you don’t have to answer. You don’t have to say anything. Just smile, and shrug, and say it again. “His name is John.” What God says, goes. If no one else understands, or agrees, or even has a clue, that’s OK.

If nine months of being quiet has taught me anything, it’s that all of us are at our best when we shut up and trust the Lord.

You can learn that the easy way, or the hard way. This is the easy way. Trust me.

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Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, Today’s New International Version TNIV (r), Copyright (c) 2005 by International Bible Society. All rights reserved.

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