His Name if John

Luke 1:5-25; 57-64 (65-80)
24 June 2012
Glenn Loafmann

I’m Zechariah.

That other guy was playing me. Acting. Too young for the part. But. OK. Where you gonna find a guy 2000 years old?

Bet when you heard, “In the days of Herod, King of Judea,” you thought you were going to hear a different story, didn’t you? Surprise.

Nobody pays attention to us, much. Don’t tell our story much. Elizabeth and me and John, we’re like Scotty Pippen to Michael Jordan – Al Gore to Bill Clinton. We get lost in the glare of the Superstar.

So I’m gonna tell you a little bit. But before I do, let’s get something straight.

I’m a retired Priest. That’s what these robes are for – my old uniform. Retired from the Temple in Jerusalem, which is more like the Vatican than you might think.

We were in the One Percent, Elizabeth and I – you can look it up: “descendant of Abijah…daughter of Aaron.”1

I didn’t get where I was by being “prophetic” or “creative” or “open” to things, or by “affirming” this or that. I was a priest: I paid attention to the Temple Rituals. I followed the Temple Rituals. I performed the Temple Rituals.

In fact, I didn’t get where I was by doing much of anything. I was born into the priestly tribe; Elizabeth and I were part of the priestly caste, to use a term you’re familiar with. Maybe we weren’t part of the One Percent; we kept the One Percent comfortable. We did their religion for them.

So. I was “Old School”, an apparatchik. Still am.

There were 24 teams of us Temple Priests – “squads,” really – “battalions.”2 Each team on duty for a week, twice a year, offering the sacrifices twice a day, on the outer altar – where people could see – and on the inner altar – where it was just one priest and God.

We cast lots to see who brought the incense to the inner altar, and who cleaned the altar afterwards – there’s a cookbook on how to do that – and we kept a list of the people who had not done it, and we rolled the dice to see which one was next.

Everybody got a turn… well… if they lived long enough.

Almost nobody got more than one turn. Ever. Once in a lifetime, you understand. We each got one chance, if we lived long enough, to make the offering on the inner altar once. Once. Or clean the ashes off.

So that’s the day. My day.

There were a lot of “days of King Herod of Judea,” but this was the only day in all creation that I got to make the incense offering on the inner altar at the Jerusalem Temple. “Peak of my career,” the One Percenters would say. Peak of my life, really. That’s the day.

You don’t understand this story unless you understand that – understand what Day it was. This happened on the day that was already scripted to be the high point of my life.

===

We wanted kids, Elizabeth and I. We got old. Everything was OK, except that. We were righteous. Obedient. Respected, and we were as good as we looked. No phonies. No hypocrites. But no kids.

After while it got to be just an ache. Not something we talked about, not even something we “bore” or anything, like a burden; more something that was just always not there. We wanted kids, and we didn’t have any kids.

You’d have to talk to Elizabeth to really know how she felt, being barren. What it was like for her. It’s a great word, by the way, isn’t it? – … barren… that really describes it. You’d have to ask her. We didn’t talk about it. I didn’t know what to say. I don’t think I knew what to listen for. We didn’t say anything.

Nobody said anything. I’ll give ‘em that. Nobody gave us a hard time, nobody condescended; nobody “pitied” us. Nobody scolded.

Some people were pitied, you know, because they had no children. Some people were blamed. Neighbors said God had cursed them, or punished them or things like that. Job had his “friends,” you remember, in all his troubles, and there are still friends like that – eager to explain why God makes your crops die, or your wife barren, or your city get hit by a hurricane. Or eager to feel sorry for you.

They didn’t do that to us, far as I know… nobody said anything like that to me, and Elizabeth never let on like anybody said anything like that to her…maybe behind our backs, but not otherwise.

===

I did the incense – got it ready – did the preparatory blessing, the prayers of consecration, purification, cleansing, all that . . . and I turned around to place it on the altar and light it, and everything changed.

There was an angel.

I was dumb-struck. Scared the p-waddin’ out of me.

“Don’t be afraid,” the angel says.

Right.

“Here’s what’s gonna happen,” he says.

And he goes through the whole list: Prayers answered, wife – son, name “John.” Joy, gladness, rejoice. No booze. Holy Spirit. Elijah. Reconcile parents and children. Prepare the people. Lights, camera, action. Just like that.

You just heard what he said {it’s in the readings}.

“I’m old.” I said.

“I’m Gabriel,” he said. “This is an offer you can’t refuse. When you’re ready to sign, we’ll listen to you then.”

===

I made the offering, and went outside.

“What you doin’ in there?” everybody said. “What took you so long? Who you talking to?”

I couldn’t say anything. No words.

We went home. Our deployment ended, and we went home.

Elizabeth got pregnant: “God Almighty has done this for me”

El Shaddai. The old name, more like “God the Sufficient,” “God the Strong Enough” “God that Gets Things Done” –

“for it has pleased Her to take away
the humiliation I have suffered.”

You don’t even have a word for it, or not one word, anyway: “humiliation,” “reproach,” “disgrace…” your translators try to sneak up on that feeling from all directions.

That’s what she felt, Elizabeth did. All that. Or maybe “sad” would be enough. And then she got pregnant.

“God Shaddai has done this for me,” Elizabeth sang,
– Sang! She sang when she found out! –
“for it has pleased Her to take away
the humiliation I have suffered!”

Maybe only a Woman could know how Elizabeth felt. Maybe Elizabeth could only tell a Woman. I don’t know. That’s what it seemed like to me.

I’m Old School. But I can’t get all bent out of shape by “God is Her.” I liked my mamma, too.

Elizabeth got what she needed from God, and if God felt like “Her” to Elizabeth, that’s good enough for me. I can go with that. She can call God anything she likes – she waited a long time, and God made her happy, blessed her.

=====

So the baby was born, and we took him to be circumcised – and … now Listen to This …. “they” … that’s what’s in the Official Minutes of the Meeting:3 “they”… “they were going to name him … ‘Zechariah’” – after me.

They? It takes a village to name a child? Or a battalion of priests? I couldn’t talk, not that anybody asked. Everybody just “knew what I wanted.” Thought I would follow the program. After all, I was a priest – I follow programs.

“He’ll want somebody to carry on his name.”

And I would have, except things had changed. The ritual had changed – the script.

Elizabeth spoke up – did you hear that? did you hear that part? did you hear how she spoke up? which probably scared the Circumcision Squad as much as the angel scared me.

“NO! You gonna take a razor to my baby, you better keep me happy! He. Is. To. Be. Called. JOHN.”

“They” gave me something to write on, and I wrote, “What she said. You darn tootin’: John it is.”

So we named him John, like Elizabeth said: “God has shown favor.” “God is gracious.” Nobody knew more about that than she did.

===

Well, that’s not the end of the story – you understand how it is with babies. Sometimes I did think we should have named him, “God has poked me in the eye with a stick.”

He was not an easy child. He ran away, early on4 – went to live in the desert.

Joy and happiness and reconciliation weren’t his strong suits. Something about being part of the One Percent – or the One Percent Enablers – didn’t suit him. He was Honked Off at the Romans and their toadies all the time.

And getting prepared for the Lord …. well, it didn’t involve any once-in-a-lifetime incense offerings, or keeping kosher.

He tended to favor locally-grown honey and organic free-range shade-grown fair-trade grasshoppers.

He was a good preacher, though. He gathered the crowds, got ‘em to listen – got ‘em to think – and Herod couldn’t have that, so ….

But along with the honey and bugs the crowds got a taste of how everything had changed. They wouldn’t go back to the old way.

When John was murdered, his crowds started to follow Jesus.

That’s the story that gets lost: Jesus was the messiah, but it was John got ‘em ready.

John made it possible.

John started it.

Our son.

Thank you, Elizabeth.

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