The Birth of John the Baptist
57 When it was time for Elizabeth to have her baby, she gave birth to a son. 58 Her neighbors and relatives heard that the Lord had shown her great mercy, and they shared her joy.
59 On the eighth day they came to circumcise the child, and they were going to name him after his father Zechariah, 60 but his mother spoke up and said, “No! He is to be called John.”
61 They said to her, “There is no one among your relatives who has that name.”
62 Then they made signs to his father, to find out what he would like to name the child. 63 He asked for a writing tablet, and to everyone’s astonishment he wrote, “His name is John.” 64 Immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue set free, and he began to speak, praising God. 65 All the neighbors were filled with awe, and throughout the hill country of Judea people were talking about all these things. 66 Everyone who heard this wondered about it, asking, “What then is this child going to be?” For the Lord’s hand was with him.
Maybe you’ve heard about the little six-year-old boy who announced one day, “I’m running away from home!” His parents asked him … “What will you do when you run out of food?” “That’s easy,” he said, “I’ll come home for more.” “What will you do when you run out of money?” “That’s easy,” he said, “I’ll come home for more.” “What will you do when your clothes get dirty?” “That’s easy,” he said, “I’ll come home for more.” The dad turned to the mom and said, “This kid isn’t running away from home. This kid is going away to college!”
Did you know that people, people of all ages are running away from home and they are doing so in record numbers? The pain of sick families is so great that people will run almost anywhere they can to experience some sort of love and/or acceptance. Husbands are running to bars and are going on achievement binges. Women are running to extramarital relationships which offer a listening ear, a loving touch, or more. Some children are running from their family pain which infects them so much that later on when they are in the twenties and thirties they have this awful sickness welling up inside of them. At that point, their entire life is up for grabs.
Last week we started this series called “Family Life.” We began last week with Zechariah and Elizabeth. Remember the devastating circumstance they faced? Longing to have children, but they couldn’t. While their friends and relatives are delighting in children and grandchildren, Zechariah and Elizabeth have nothing but shattered hopes and dashed dreams. There must have been times when each of them simply wanted to run away.
Our homes in which we live can sometimes be tough places to live. Someone once said that marriages go through three stages. There is the “Happy Honeymoon” stage. The “Party’s Over” stage and then the “Let’s Make a Deal” stage.
Maybe the conflict within your home concerns money and that there just isn’t enough of it. Or maybe the conflict is in raising your children where you’re either too strict or too lax. Or maybe the conflict is on where you’re going on vacation next summer as you catch yourself saying to your spouse, “We always go where you want to go!” And let’s be honest with ourselves … the approaching holidays can make for some very trying family times.
The fact that we have family conflict though is not the real issue. It’s not. The real issue is how we handle the family conflict we do have.
When it comes to handling this conflict, there a four main ways in which we do it. The first option, the first way is my way. We say something like, “Let me make this clear to you. This marriage is all about my agenda, my needs, my wants. After all, I’m always right and you’re always wrong. That’s why my way is the best way and my way is the only way. If you don’t like my way, well there’s the door. Don’t let it hit you on the way out!”
A second option is no way. Here we back way. I ignore the problem and avoid it at all costs. I use discussion killers like, “Oh grow up!” or “Give me a break!” or “I can’t believe you’re makings such a big deal out of this!” Nothing is ever resolved because I kill every discussion. I won’t engage in a discussion. Instead I run to my room and lock the door. Solve this conflict? “No way!”
Another option is your way. I give up. I give in. I roll over and play dead. I give in to your way. There’s an epidemic in America called the passive, detached husband and father. At an alarming rate more and more men are becoming detached, distant, and disengaged. They shrug their should and say, “Fine! Have it your way!”
Zechariah and Elizabeth of our gospel reading … they decided on a different way instead of my way or no way or your way. They decided on our way. “59 On the eighth day they came to circumcise the child, and they were going to name him after his father Zechariah, 60 but his mother spoke up and said, “No! He is to be called John.” 61 They said to her, “There is no one among your relatives who has that name.” 62 Then they made signs to his father, to find out what he would like to name the child” (Luke 1:59-62).
Zechariah doubted the angel Gabriel’s promise that God would give him a son, so Gabriel told him that he wouldn’t be able to speak until after his son’s birth. So for nine month’s Zechariah the priest lived a pastor’s greatest fear … he was unable to speak.
But then when his son was born, in the midst of all the hubbub regarding his son’s name, Zechariah “asked for a writing tablet, and to everyone’s astonishment he wrote, ‘His name is John’” (Lk 1:63). When it came to the naming of their son, for Zechariah and Elizabeth it wasn’t my way, no way, or your way … it was our way.
Our way means that I care about solving our problem. Our way means that I care about healing our relationship. Our way attacks the issue at hand. It doesn’t attack the person. Our way emphasizes reconciliation, not resolution. There is a big difference between the two.
Reconciliation means that my first priority is our relationship. And why is that? Well, you are more important than our problems. You are more important than all of our problems. Don’t get me wrong. We don’t bury the issue, but we do bury the hatchet. We keep talking about the issue, but we talk about it together. We can disagree agreeably. We can walk arm in arm with one another without seeing eye to eye.
But why did both Zechariah and Elizabeth insist on naming their son “John”? Because that’s what the angel said to Zechariah in the temple. The name “John” means “The Lord is gracious.” The angel told them to name their son “John” because in the midst of their conflict the only way Zechariah and Elizabeth would get to our way would be through God’s way. God’s way is the way of grace.
Because of grace, God gives to each of us new life. He gives to us a forgiven life, an eternal life. John 1:16 says that God is full of grace. Romans 6:14 says that we are “under grace.” Ephesians 2:9 says we are saved by grace, and 1 Peter 5:10 calls our God, “the God of all grace.” Hebrews 4:16 says that God’s throne is a throne of grace, and James 4:6 says, “God gives more grace.” Grace reconciles you and me to God. Grace reconciles us to each other.
On December 17, 1903, Orville and Wilbur Wright got their flying machine off the ground. On December 17, 1903, the airplane was born. In their excitement, they sent a telegraph to their sister Katherine. It simply said, “Flew 120 feet. Will be home for Christmas.” When Katherine got the news, she ran to the local paper in Dayton, Ohio and showed the telegraph to the editor. He glanced at it and said, “How nice, the boys will be home for Christmas.” He had completely missed the point! Yes, it was nice that the boys would be home for Christmas, but a person had flown an airplane for the first time. That was big news!
How often do we miss the big news of Christmas? Far too often we get caught up in the tinsel and the toys, the trees and all the trimmings. Those things are nice. Just like it was nice that the Wright brothers would be home for Christmas. But that’s not the big news. The big news of Christmas is that God took flight. God took flight and traveled from heaven to earth. The Word of God became flesh and dwelt among us! And he did it to show us the full meaning of grace.
“John” means “the Lord is gracious,” but Jesus is the Lord of all grace. You see, when it comes to grace, Jesus nailed it perfectly! But before the nails were driven, he wanted to run away. Three times in the Garden of Gethsemane Jesus asked his Father to remove the cup of suffering. But the Father didn’t. So Jesus went. And finally he went willingly. Jesus went to Calvary where he took upon himself all of our sin, including those sins we have committed against our family members. Rising from the dead on the third day, Jesus now lives as the gracious Lord of heaven and earth. Grace … Jesus nailed it perfectly … for you!
Forgiven by grace, overflowing with grace, forever in grace … when family conflict comes our way, we are empowered to renounce my way, no way, and your way and say, “Yes” to a better way … our way, God’s way. Amen.
The peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus our Lord, now and forever. Amen.