A New Name
“On the eighth day they came to circumcise the child, and they were going to name him Zechariah after his father. But his mother said, ‘No; he is to be called John.’ They said to her, ‘None of your relatives has this name.'” – Luke 1:59-63
Scripture often gives little clues that first-century families were just like us. In the story of John the Baptist’s bris, the clue comes in the form of the infamous “they,” as in “They said, ‘none of your relatives has this name.'”
Do you have any Theys in your family? People whom you love, but who think it is their business to pooh-pooh any attempt you may make to be different from the family culture—even in what you name your kid.
Names have incredible power to shape who we are, what we will do, and how people see us. I have known people who gave themselves a new name as adults—not just as a shallow attempt to rebrand, but as a spiritual rite of claiming themselves and the person God intended them to be. It was also way of separating from their family of origin in a healthy way—so they didn’t have to separate in an unhealthy way.
Elizabeth and Zechariah’s break with tradition is a sign that something entirely new is happening. There has never been anyone named John in their bloodline. So, maybe John has a family that is bigger than the one the Theys can imagine.
Likewise baby Jesus received his own name from his Parent in heaven. And the grown Jesus had some choice nuggets for those who would privilege blood family over God’s family. Such as when he told the crowd within earshot of Mary and his brothers, “Who is my family? Whoever does the will of God is my mother and siblings . . . .”
So this Christmas, when you sit down to the table, and the beloved but annoying Theys start in on your haircut, your parenting style or your career choice, gently (and lovingly!) remind them:
I love you. And we are different. And that’s just how God made us to be. Amen.
Molly Baskette is lead pastor of the quirky, loveable and truth-telling First Church Somerville UCC in Somerville, MA. Read their personal testimonies in her latest book, Standing Naked Before God: The Art of Public Confession.