Church services can sometimes be daunting experiences for those who are not used to them. There are many rules and intricacies that everyone else seems to understand, but have failed to pass on; when do you sit, stand or kneel, what are the words that you are expected to say at this point, why have the words changed? Therefore it can feel like the best thing to do is to keep quiet, mumble along with everyone else and go with the flow. This may not have been exactly how Elizabeth felt when she brought John the Baptist to be circumcised, but it was the role she was supposed to play as a women that time.
However when the Elders were about to bestow upon her child a name that was different to the one she had been told to give him, she had to do something. Her husband had been stuck dumb and so could not intervene before this point which meant it was down to her. With great dignity and courage she spoke up in a place where she was supposed to keep quiet and said “No”. She would have had a clear idea about the consequences of this action given her husband’s role in the Temple and yet she knew the name given to her by God to give to her son had to be bestowed upon him.
The whole congregation were astonished as her husband, Zechariah, validated this outburst by agreeing with the name change and at that instant his voice returned. They could have asked Zechariah to write it down before and there is no evidence to suggest they did or why he did not take that initiative himself, but it took Elizabeth standing up for what she believed in without regard for the consequences to ensure that God’s will was done. She was willing to astonish and draw the wrath of the crowd to ensure the right thing was done.
This moment is a wonderful insight into the character of Elizabeth, as John the Baptist’s mother, and must have been where some of his strength came from. As he went into the desert to preach repentance and to prepare the way for Jesus, he was willing to stand up tall in the face of those who rallied against him. He was willing to point out the sins of all as a way of helping them to seek the repentance that would lead them to accepting God’s love. He was willing to do this even to King Herod and continued to do so even to the point of his beheading. He was willing to do so because he wanted to show us all the way to salvation, the way to true life, the way to Jesus himself.
In each of our daily lives, we are offered this chance to be like John and prepare the path for others to reach Jesus if only we are willing to take a stand and not let the fear of what might happen stop us. In an age when the threat of legal action is held against anyone who expresses a negative opinion against an action of someone else, it can be scary to stand up and offer constructive correction to someone.
Members of Trump’s inner circle have been asked to leave restaurants in opposition to his child separation policy against illegal immigrant families, leading to extreme negative and positive reviews being left on internet comparison sites. The case of the American baker who refused to bake a wedding cake for a gay couple was recently dismissed, but only after being taken to the Supreme Court, on the grounds of freedom of religious expression. Whether those cases were right or wrong, the long battle can prevent others from expressing any opinion that puts you at odds with the current received wisdom and powers of the world.
What made Elizabeth, John and others able to stand up was the belief that what they were doing was right. It was to bring glory to God and to bring other’s into that incredible place of knowing God’s love. We can often feel like we toil in vain and exhaust ourselves for nothing in these situations, but our cause is with the Lord. If our hearts are hearts after His own, if we are truly acting out of love, if we are willing to stand up and go that extra mile to be the light to the nations, we do so in the certain knowledge that what we do is right, for the benefit of those those we do it for. Like John the Baptist, to highlight our faults and failings is not to condemn, but to show us that there is a path we need to take which leads to the arms of the Father.