Now the time came for Elizabeth to give birth, and she bore a son. Her neighbors and relatives heard that the Lord had shown his great mercy to her, and they rejoiced with her.
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.’ Then they began motioning to his father to find out what name he wanted to give him. He asked for a writing-tablet and wrote, ‘His name is John.’ And all of them were amazed. Immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue freed, and he began to speak, praising God.Fear came over all their neighbours, and all these things were talked about throughout the entire hill country of Judea. All who heard them pondered them and said, ‘What then will this child become?’ For, indeed, the hand of the Lord was with him. The child grew and became strong in spirit, and he was in the wilderness until the day he appeared publicly to Israel. (Luke 1:57-66, 80)
The connection of John the Baptist and the summer solstice centers around his call for us to turn around our lives as we enter this season when everything seems possible. The trees are full of leaves, the weather is warm, many of us will travel to someplace new for some much needed rest.
John’s birth is the result of a seemingly impossible event–his mother Elizabeth had never been able to conceive a child and was now too old. Yet Elizabeth’s pregnancy recalls the Jewish tradition of barren women bearing children. Sarah gave birth to Isaac, Rachel gave birth to Joseph and Benjamin, Hannah gave birth to Samuel. And through these women, ways were made possible for God to found a people, to save a people, to unify a people, and now John will announce the one who will show a new way of being a people.
Here in Brooklyn, the summer is a time of free concerts, stoop sales, bike rides to the beach, backyard barbecues, and playing in the park. We get tan, we sweat, we relax, we eat ice cream cones and hamburgers, and we take time to fantasize about what life will be like when it “begins again” after Labor Day.
Our Christian tradition reminds us that–like Elizabeth and Zechariah deciding to name their child John–sometimes we need to shake things up for new stuff to come into our lives. We tend to think of relaxation as simply downtime, but it also is opportunity to reconsider. A bike ride is not just a refreshing way to get from place to place but an opportunity to explore our community. Barbecues assemble new combinations of people together. The free concerts in Prospect Park or at Wingate Field let us check out new music we wouldn’t have heard if we simply relied on the suggestions of iTunes. And a stoop sale gives us a chance to jettison all the books we no longer read, all the clothes we no longer wear, and all the stuff we no longer enjoy.
This summer let’s be open to the newness that is being made possible in our lives. Just as the people wondered, “what then will this child become,” so too we enjoy what can exist in our lives when we let fresh air and fresh experience in.