People in Biblical times looked at things a lot differently than we do today. Our reading from Luke’s Gospel is a good example.
“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 great mercy toward her, and they rejoiced with her.”
Remember, Elizabeth was no kid. That was part of the miracle. The angel told Mary, “behold, Elizabeth, your relative, has also conceived a son in her old age.” Looking around this church this morning I’d say we’re a pretty mature crowd. If one of us, or our wife, was to come up pregnant would we think the Lord had shown us “great mercy”? We might think exactly the opposite. Would our neighbors and relatives come to rejoice with us?
Luke tells us that the people asked “What, then, will this child be?” They had no idea what he would become. In the continuation of this passage, after he gets his voice back, Zechariah will tell John what he is to become, but no one knows it yet.
I guess you’d say these people’s glass was always half full where, today, we tend to see it more as half empty. When God called on them, they usually said yes, even when they didn’t know what they were saying “yes” to.
It’s the same thing with John’s name. The angel had told Zechariah what to call the child. “Call him John.” The relatives and neighbors objected. Babies were given family names. It was unheard of to give a child, especially a son, a different name. But Elizabeth insisted that he be called John and Zechariah confirmed it, writing on a tablet “John is his name.” It’s a good thing he did because that’s when he got his voice back.
Family names aren’t so important today. In fact a lot of parents seem to go out of their way to hang strange monikers on their poor, innocent children. But how many couples would give their kid a name because an angel told them to? Probably not many.
Here’s the thing. People in Jesus’ time were open to the will of the Father. They put God first and themselves second. That’s not so common today. Separated from them by 2,000 years and half a world away, I think it’s hard for us sometimes to understand just how obedient those people were and how much we come up short.
Some might say that God has never asked them to do anything. They would be wrong. God speaks to us in any number of ways including through the Scriptures and through signs. The problem is that most of us don’t take the time to listen. We need to be open to the Father’s word and to listen for it.