Christmas is a time for believing.
Children believe they’ll receive the gifts on their wish lists.
Adults believe they can bring everything together—gifts, dinner, family—on Christmas Day.
The desperate, the suffering, the hopeful believe they’ll receive a miracle.
But it’s not always easy to believe. We’ve been disappointed. Our hopes dashed. Our miracles lost. Our Christmases not everything we wish them to be.
Zacharias had a hard time believing too.
Luke begins his Gospel account with the birth announcement of John the Baptist. John’s parents, Zacharias and Elizabeth, were likely well acquainted with disappointment. For while “they were both righteous in the sight of God” (Luke 1:6), they were also without a child (1:7, 18).
Because of their old age, Zacharias was skeptical that his lot in life could change. After the angel Gabriel announced that Zacharias and Elizabeth would have a baby, Zacharias asked, “How will I know this for certain?” (1:18).
Had he been disappointed one too many times to believe in God’s promise? Had he and Elizabeth spent most of their lives longing for the life they’d never had—a home full of children and grandchildren? Whatever the case, Zacharias’s response to the glad tidings of God’s messenger was doubt.
So Gabriel told him, “Behold, you shall be silent and unable to speak until the day when these things take place, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in the proper time” (1:20).
Zacharias’s doubts were silenced.
Elizabeth did give birth to a boy, whom she wanted to name John, just as Gabriel had told Zacharias the boy’s name would be (1:13). Friends and family wanted to name the boy after his father, but Elizabeth insisted (1:59-60). So they turned to silent Zacharias.
And in a simple act of faith, Zacharias wrote, “His name is John” (1:63).
Thus, Zacharias’s voice returned so he could praise the God whose promises come to pass (1:64-80).
It really was such a simple act, wasn’t it? Writing down a name. Declaring four little words: “His name is John.”
The name John can be traced to a Hebrew name that means “Yahweh is gracious.”* A fitting name for this unexpected gift, this child who would prepare the way for our Savior, Jesus Christ.
By declaring this name for his son, Zacharias claimed the promise and goodness of our Lord. He believed that God had done what the angel said He would do, and he obediently followed through. He believed the rest of what was said about John would come to pass (1:14-17, 68-79).
This Christmas, there is no guarantee that we will get everything on our wish lists, or that our holiday dinners will turn out perfect and our families will be healthy and at peace.
But as we look back on the first Christmas, we see that in the midst of the world’s doubts, God did what He said He would do. He sent His Son. He lived among us and had compassion on us. He forgave. He conquered death and paved the way to eternal life.
God’s Word is full of promises you can claim—some that have come to pass, and some that are on the horizon. Will you offer a simple act of faith? No matter what this Christmas brings, you can choose to believe, to declare with your pen, your voice, your heart that “Yahweh is gracious.”
*Mike Campbell, “John,” Behind the Name, December 12, 2015, http://www.behindthename.com/name/john.