“When they came on the eighth day to circumcise the child, they were going to call him Zechariah after his father, but his mother said in reply, “No. He will be called John.” But they answered her, “There is no one among your relatives who has this name.” So they made signs, asking his father what he wished him to be called. he asked for a tablet and wrote, “John is his name,” and all were amazed…All who heard these things took them to heart, saying, “What, then, will this child be?” For surely the hand of the Lord was with him.” (Lk 1,59-66)
As we come to a close of our Advent season and await the birth of the Christ-child we hear of the birth of the Precursor, John the Baptist, and his presentation on the day of his circumcision. The prophet Malachi in the first reading proclaims, “Lo, I am sending my messenger to prepare the way before me; And suddenly there will come to the temple the Lord whom you seek, and the messenger of the covenant whom you desire.” (Mal 3,1-4) John is the messenger, the one who is to prepare the way. The archangel Gabriel foretells the birth of John in a message to Zechariah, his father, “He will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah to turn the hearts of fathers toward children and the disobedient to the understanding of the righteous, to prepare a people fit for the Lord.” (Lk 1,17) John is known to the angels and is part of God’s plan of salvation. John has always been the messenger, long before he was ever born. The psalmist speaks about this mystery of God’s plan for our lives, “Your eyes foresaw my actions; in your book all are written down, my days were shaped, before one came to be.” (Ps 139,16) The angel Gabriel told Zechariah before the birth of John, “Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall name him John. And you will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, for he will be great in the sight of the Lord.” (Lk 1,14f) The angel Gabriel is not foretelling a future event, he is giving instructions about something that has long ago been written. Gabriel’s message is the revelation of something that has already been written in God’s book for ages and ages, that has been spoken about by the prophets and that is part of God’s plan of salvation. The path to joy and gladness runs through obedience to God’s word and cooperation with God’s plan written for our life. True freedom and happiness does not come from “doing our own thing” but it comes from following the way and fulfilling the meaning that God has written into our lives.
Zechariah and Isabel are examples to us of good parental practice. They know that John is a gift from God and that he really doesn’t belong to them, he belongs to the Lord. They give John the name that the angel had revealed to Zechariah in obedience to the word of God. They dedicate John to the Lord and his whole life will be oriented to serving God and fulfilling his vocation. John is an arrow that is directed towards a single target. “The Lord called me from birth, from my mother’s womb he gave me my name. He made of me a sharp-edged sword and concealed me in the shadow of his arm. He made me a polished arrow, in his quiver he hid me.” (Is 49, 1f)
There is a crisis in vocations in our culture today. At the same time there are many young people that are living without purpose, with no direction in their lives. I think a lot of this is caused by the type of parenting that is being done today. Some parents think that it is their prerogative to choose their children’s life path and career and they control their children’s life. Other parents give no direction to their children and let them try to find their own way. The purpose and meaning that God has written into their lives is never considered. At the birth of their children every parent should be asking God the question, “What then will this child be?” A parent can help their child discern the vocation that God has written into their lives. Joy and gladness will come to those who obey the interior direction that God gives them in their lives.
I have had many people ask me, “When did you know that you wanted to be a priest?” I answer that I never wanted to be a priest. It was not my plan or my parents’ plan for my life, it was God’s plan. When I discovered God’s call in my life and followed his directions then my life began to bear fruit and bring me peace and joy. I believe that there are some truths that we can learn from the life of John the Baptist. First, God has a name for each of us that carries our vocation and that reveals the meaning and purpose of our lives. We can learn this name by learning to listen to God in prayer and in a personal relationship with him. Parents can be helpful to their children by helping them to come to know God, to learn how to pray and listen to God and by helping them to learn obedience to God’s word. They can encourage their children when they demonstrate special gifts and charisms of service. When parents neglect their children’s spiritual formation they do them a great disservice. Life has meaning and purpose.
“John is his name.” No question. God gave him that name. John brought honor and glory to his name through his unique way of fulfilling his purpose in life and being what God created him to be.