Saturday, December 23, 2006

23 December
Naming Grace

Readings: Malachi 3:1-4, 23-24; Psalm 25:4-5ab, 8-9, 10 and 14; Luke 1:57-66

We are presented with a curious event in the gospel of today. An impossible, miraculous, joyous birth has just taken place, and everyone seems to be quibbling over names. What, we may wonder, is all the fuss about? Zechariah or John, Ah Hock or Selvam, what difference does it make? And, more importantly, what has it to do with us, who continue to await the Lord’s coming?

Some days ago, someone was heard asking a very important question: People always tell me that God speaks to them. What do they mean? I never hear God speaking to me. Does God really speak to us? And if so, how does God speak? A very important question indeed, especially for us who are waiting for God to come? To answer it, we need first to recall that the word speak can mean different things, just as there are many different languages, many ways of communication. In addition to the many different spoken languages, for example, there is also sign-language, the languages of music and of dance, body-language, and even the language of international diplomacy. Daily we communicate with one another in less than explicit ways. We drop hints, give presents, hold hands, caress cheeks, attend or absent ourselves from functions...

How then does God speak to us? Could the channels of divine communication be as varied? Could the external events of our lives, as well as the interior movements of our heart constitute the grammar of such communication? If so, then it becomes crucially important to pay careful attention to and to identify the significance of each event and movement. Not only must we become aware of them, but we need to name them, much as the newborn son of Elizabeth and Zechariah is named.

It is no coincidence that he is named John. The Hebrew Yohannan means God has shown favour. By choosing this name, John’s parents are naming and claiming the grace that God is showering upon them and upon all who will benefit from John’s future ministry, ourselves included. It is also no coincidence that our gospel is paired today with a first reading that speaks of the prophet Elijah. For this is the favour that God is showing in the birth of John. His will be a ministry of reconciliation, as Elijah's was, helping to prepare the way for the coming Saviour. It is also no coincidence that Zechariah’s power of speech returns at the precise moment in which he names and claims God’s favour. For it is only then that he has anything meaningful to say. It is only then that he begins to appreciate the direction in which he and his new family are to travel.

Our situation is not much different. Just as the Saviour continues to come into our world, so too does John, God’s favour. Through the events of our lives, as well as the thoughts and feelings of our hearts, God continues to help us prepare the way for Christ’s coming.

How might we better name and claim this divine favour for ourselves today?

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