Growing up, we had a dog called Pony. She was very daring and fertile and soon became a matriarch. I was very fond of her, and she would always move around with me. In my curiosity, as a child, I wondered how Pony could identify her name since she was not human, and I tried calling her another name, (like Terry), but she would not respond, but when I mention her name, she will jump on me. Reminiscing on my experience of giving Pony a different name and her inaction, there is every reason to say that there is something in a name.
A name is often the first piece of information we have about people and which could potentially lead to favorable or adverse reactions. In the era of “google search” name is even more relevant. People generally value their names more than their birthdays. Imagine being in a crowd and hearing your name somewhere behind you. The immediate reaction would be to turn and see who is calling, but you may not get the same reaction when someone mentions your birth date in the same crowd. There is a kind of bond we have with our names, and that explains why people struggle to keep their names from every shadow of negativity. In fact, the Igbos of southeast Nigeria would say that good name is more valuable than money.
Today, the Church celebrates the feast of the birth of John the Baptist whose life was most spectacular. His parents were old, and God announced his birth through an angel when the parents had almost lost hope of making babies. The high point in the narrative of the birth of John the Baptist was the traditional search for a name for the baby. We could recall that his father, Zechariah, became deaf and dumb after an encounter with the angel Gabriel at the sanctuary where he received the message of the birth of John the Baptist (Luke 1:20).
During the naming ceremony (Luke 1:59ff), the relatives wanted to follow the usual route of naming the first son after his father Zechariah, but his mother maintains that his name should be John. Since the name did not resonate with the family ancestry, they decide to seek the opinion of his father through signs and writing material. As he attempts to write, “his name is John,” his mouth opens, and he begins to praise God. At this point, it would fit for us to understand the meaning of the name John and connect our understanding to his mission as the prophetic bridge between the old and new testament and the forerunner of Jesus Christ.
The name John comes from the Hebrew Yohanan, which means God is gracious. The name replaces the name Zechariah which means God has remembered. With the priest, Zechariah, God remembered His promise and with the son, John, God shows his graciousness. Let us call to mind that grace means unmerited favor.
In John the Baptist, therefore, God begins the gracious process and work of our redemption by preparing the ground for the coming of His Son our Lord Jesus. The birth of John the Baptist is the prophetic alert to the advent of the Messiah as the prophet Isaiah proclaims (Isaiah 40:3-5), and John himself corroborates (John1:23), “A voice cries out in the wilderness, prepare the way of the Lord, make His paths straight.”
The life and ministry of John the Baptist indicate the graciousness of God, and we could identify the manifestation of divine graces in John through the following foundational qualities of the Christian life.
John made it clear that he is not the messiah, he is unfit to untie the strap of his sandals, and that the Messiah would increase while he would decrease (John 1:20; 3:28-30). John knew his position and kept to it. The disposition of John the Baptist remains a challenge to most of our contemporary preachers who take pride in making lofty claims about themselves and making themselves “messiahs.” The central point of Christianity is Jesus Christ and not any man or woman of God.
Worldly possession and materialism are rapidly overwhelming the Christian message. In our day and age, fashion, private jets, and other material provisions are becoming more important than the souls of men and women. How many preachers tell people about sin and repentance and the reality of hellfire? John the Baptist did not waste time to remind the people to repent for the kingdom of God is at hand (Matt. 3:1-2). His life of austerity demonstrated the need for people to detach from worldly affairs and reach to an attachment to God.
John the Baptist had no business with political correctness. For him instead, it is about the truth and nothing, but the truth and this disposition towards the truth would lead to his death (Mark 14:16-29). The authentic Christian is the one who is up for the truth in season and out of season and no matter whose ox is gored.
Like John the Baptist, we are all invited to become forerunners of Jesus Christ by living up to our name as Christians. If there is something in a name people should discover great qualities in our Christian identity. In the story of the nativity of John the Baptist, we learn how to be patient and wait in prayer like Zecharia and Elizabeth. We are invited to wait because God will remember us at His time and he will be gracious to us. Furthermore, the ministry of John the Baptist invites us to show other people the way to Christ, not the way out of Christ. Our lives should bear witness to the graciousness of God.
As we celebrate the birth of John the Baptist, we pray for the grace to become the contemporary reflections of John the Baptist by the good fruits of the genuine Christian life. May God’s grace abide with us always. Have a beautiful celebration and gracious week ahead.