Advent Devotion for December 23   12 comments

Above:  Zechariah

The Importance of a Name

DECEMBER 23, 2023


Malachi 3:1-5 (Revised English Bible):

I am about to send my messenger to clear a path before me.  Suddenly the Lord whom you seek will come to his temple; the messenger of the covenant in whom you delight is here, here already, says the LORD of Hosts.  Who can endure the day of his coming?  Who can stand firm when he appears?  He is like a refiner’s fire, like a fuller’s soap; he will take his seat, testing and purifying; he will purify the Levites and refine them like gold and silver, and so they will be fit to bring offerings to the LORD.  Thus the offerings of Judah and Jerusalem will be pleasing to the LORD as they were in former days, in days long past.  I shall appear before you in court, quick to testify against sorcerers, adulterers, and perjurers, against those who cheat the hired labourer of his wages, who wrong the widow and the fatherless, who thrust the alien aside and do not fear me, says the LORD of Hosts.

Psalm 25:1-15 (Revised English Bible):

LORD my God, to you I lift my heart.

In you I trust: do not let me be put to shame,

do not let my enemies exult over me.

No one whose hope is in you is put to shame;

but shame comes to all who break faith without cause.

Make your paths known to me, LORD;

teach me your ways.

Lead me by your faithfulness and teach me,

for you are God my saviour;

in you I put my hope all day long.

Remember, LORD, your tender care and love unfailing,

for they are from of old.

Do not remember the sins and offences of my youth,

but remember me in your unfailing love,

in accordance with your goodness, LORD.

The LORD is good and upright;

therefore he teaches sinners the way they should go.

He guides the humble in right conduct,

and teaches them his way.

All the paths of the LORD are loving and sure

to those who keep his covenant and his solemn charge.

LORD, for the honour of your name

forgive my wickedness, great though it is.

Whoever fears the LORD

will be shown the path he should choose.

He will enjoy lasting prosperity,

and his descendants will inherit the land.

The LORD confides his purposes to those who fear him;

his covenant is for their instruction.

My eyes are ever on the LORD,

who alone can free my feet from the net.

Luke 1:57-66 (Revised English Bible):

When the time came for Elizabeth’s child to be born, she gave birth to a son.  Her neighbours and relatives heard what great kindness the Lord had shown her, and they shared her delight.  On the eighth day they came to circumcise the child; and they were going to name him Zechariah after his father, but his mother spoke up:


she said,

He is to be called John.

They said,

But there is nobody in your family who has that name.

Then inquired of his father by signs what he would like him to be called.  He asked for a writing tablet and to everybody’s astonishment wrote,

His name is John.

Immediately his lips and tongue were freed and he began to speak, praising God.  All the neighbours were overcome with awe, and throughout the uplands of Judaea the whole story became common talk.  All who heard it were deeply impressed and said, “What will this child become?”  For indeed the hand of the Lord was upon him.

The Collect:

Purify our conscience, Almighty God, by your daily visitation, that your Son Jesus Christ, at his coming, may find in us a mansion prepared for himself; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.


The countdown to Christmas Day draws very near to its end with this day in Advent.  Yet let us give each remaining day before December 25 its due.

The day had come for the circumcision and naming of the son of Elizabeth and Zechariah, the latter of which was still mute.  The ceremony was a community event, and custom contained a preference for naming a son after his father or grandfather, usually the grandfather.  Yet this child’s name was unique in his family tree.  The child was to be named John, or, in Hebrew, Jehohanan, which means, “God’s gracious gift.”

As British scholar G. B. Caird wrote in Saint Luke (Pelikan Books then Penguin Books, 1963, with reprints), a child’s name “was closely related to the character and nature of the bearer” and reflected his or her parents’ faith and aspirations for him or her in the Jewish culture of Judea in the late First Century B.C.E.  And while we ponder names, think about these facts:  Zechariah means “the LORD has recalled” and Elizabeth means “oath of God.”  I detect a congruency in these names coming together.

I am grateful to my parents for, among other things, giving me a name I have been able to carry well into adulthood.  That was a great kindness.  And it helps that “Kenneth” is the name of at least two saints–one of Scotland, the other of Wales.  Indeed, I have heard of some truly unfortunate names that have the effect of making it impossible for one to get a job interview, for, when pronounced, they sound like curse words.  (I am not referring to foreign names transliterated into English.)

It is common in some religious orders, when one joins, to receive a new name.  This is symbolic of becoming a new person.  And some indigenous cultures in North America change a person’s name after childhood, to reflect who this individual has become.  A name, I think, ought to be something noble, something into which to strive to grow then to continue to honor.  It is, after all, what we call ourselves and others call us.

“What is this child to become?” the neighbors asked themselves about the young John.  That child was literally “God’s gracious gift,” a statement I hope is true of all of us, for the benefit of others and the glory of God.


Written on June 4, 2010

Revised on May 19, 2011


Posted September 15, 2010 by neatnik2009 in 2023-2024, December 23, Episcopal Church Lectionary

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