I don’t know about you, but it’s not easy to name a child. It was a bit more straightforward with our first child Amelie, but for our second, we spent weeks batting around various names. We didn’t know if it was going to be a boy or a girl, so we had to have at least one of each. All kinds of options were discussed: at one point for a girl we had ‘Raymonda Ping’ on the shortlist – well, the longlist.
In the end we settled on Isaac for a boy and Charis for a girl. One means ‘laughter’ and the other means ‘grace’. That worked for us. And we got laughter.
We return today to Zechariah, who has been mute for 9 months after his debacle with the angel in day 5. And names come to the fore again. In this case, Zechariah and Elizabeth face strong encouragement to stick with tradition and name the new baby boy after his dad. But Elizabeth is having none of it: so they turn to Zechariah for his view.
And, with the help of a convenient tablet – not that kind of tablet – he writes four simple words, which in one moment restores both his voice and his relationship to God: ‘His name is John.’
John – the child promised by the angel, the name given by God, the declaration that a new work of God was on its way. ‘John’ means ‘God is gracious’, which is spot on. Gracious to Elizabeth. Gracious to God’s people. Gracious to a waiting world.
Gracious to us as well. John comes to herald the arrival of God’s grace in all its fullness. A Messiah who sacrifices himself to win our forgiveness and freedom. To reconcile to himself all things, by making peace through the blood of his cross. To draw us back into the loving arms of Almighty God.
Grace. What Philip Yancey calls ‘the last, best word of the English language’: nothing we can do will make God love us more. Nothing we can do will make God love us less. The beating heart of our faith, and what inspires faith in our beating heart.
And it’s all in a name.
His name is John. May his name’s meaning be ours too.
‘Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me. I once was lost, but now am found; was blind, but now I see.’ Amen.