Luke 1:57-66 (NIV)
When it was time for Elizabeth to have her baby, she gave birth to a son. Her neighbors and relatives heard that the Lord had shown her great mercy, and they shared her joy. On the eighth day they came to circumcise the child, and they were going to name him after his father Zechariah, but his mother spoke up and said, “No! He is to be called John.” They said to her, “There is no one among your relatives who has that name.” Then they made signs to his father, to find out what he would like to name the child. He asked for a writing tablet, and to everyone’s astonishment he wrote, “His name is John.” Immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue set free, and he began to speak, praising God. All the neighbors were filled with awe, and throughout the hill country of Judea people were talking about all these things. Everyone who heard this wondered about it, asking, “What then is this child going to be?” For the Lord’s hand was with him.
Elizabeth and Zechariah inspired by the Spirit and immense gratitude defied even their sacred traditions to name their son John. I find it more than interesting that the one whose role it was to “prepare the way” for Jesus – to announce that one was “coming greater than I whose sandal I am not fit to unloose,” was named John, meaning God is gracious. Like Jesus, John would instruct his followers to share what little they had and to feed the hungry. John was full of surprises – his birth, his name, his unconventional lifestyle and his mission as the messenger of the One whose ministry was to reveal a surprisingly loving God. Even John’s name prefigured the surprising message of Jesus – the good news that we have a God who above all else is gracious. “In many of his parables and aphorisms, Jesus invited his hearers to see God not as the judge, not as the one who has requirements that must be met, not as the legitimator of conventional wisdom-but as gracious and compassionate.” (Marcus Borg, Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time)
As we prepare spiritually for Christmas, we pray that the message of a loving and generous God takes over our hearts to make us gracious in new and surprising ways. This Advent let us reach out to Abba the very source of graciousness and compassion to find the strength to be instruments of this grace and compassion for ourselves and others, to offer our families, our communities and our world the true peace of Christmas. By trusting God’s promises like Elizabeth and Zechariah, we will find that our gracious God is a God of surprises.