John’s name encapsulates a prophecy for him

in the beginning
Father Mike Stubbs is the pastor of Holy Cross Parish in Overland Park and has a degree in Scripture from Harvard University.

by Father Mike Stubbs

The ceremony of infant baptism begins with the priest asking the parents the question: “What name do you give your child?”

This is not only a practical measure to facilitate the ceremony. It is also a highly significant step.

The bestowal of a name not only serves as a label to identify the child. It also opens the door to forming a relationship with that person.

Ordinarily, when we first meet someone, we learn that person’s name. Similarly, at the baptism of an infant, we announce the infant’s name, to introduce this new member of the community to the other members. The name makes close ties and friendship possible.

In Sunday’s Gospel reading — Lk 1:57-66, 80 — the neighbors and friends of Zechariah and Elizabeth gather for the circumcision of the new baby. This is the ceremony that will make the baby a member of the community, a ceremony analogous to baptism among Christians.

They assume that the new baby will be called Zechariah after his father. But instead, Elizabeth tells them: “He will be called John.”

Much discussion ensues. The neighbors and friends are totally bewildered. They point out that none of the relatives is named John.

Although we celebrate on Sunday the solemnity of the Nativity of St. John the Baptist, our Gospel reading actually focuses upon the naming of this child, and not just his birth. Only the first line of the Gospel reading mentions his birth. The rest concerns its aftermath.

When Zechariah affirms the name by writing: “John is his name,” he once again is able to speak, after having been mute for months. Zechariah then continues with a prayer of praise, which has been omitted from our Gospel reading.

This prayer is also a prophecy of the great things that God will accomplish through this newborn infant: “You, my child, shall be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare his way, to give his people knowledge of salvation by the forgiveness of their sins.”

The giving of a name to this child also looks forward to his future life. The name itself encapsulates a prophecy for him.

That is why the neighbors and friends — and in fact all throughout the hill country of Judea — ask: “What, then, will this child be?” Their amazement is fitting preparation for the one who will prepare the way of the Lord. And it all stems from his name.

So, what is your name?

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