You are to name him “John” | Luke 1.13-17
“Don’t fear, Zachariah. Your prayer has been heard. Elizabeth, your wife, will bear a son by you. You are to name him John. You’re going to leap like a gazelle for joy, and not only you—many will delight in his birth. He’ll achieve great stature with God. He’ll drink neither wine nor beer. He’ll be filled with the Holy Spirit from the moment he leaves his mother’s womb. He will turn many sons and daughters of Israel back to their God. He will herald God’s arrival in the style and strength of Elijah, soften the hearts of parents to children, and kindle devout understanding among hardened skeptics—he’ll get the people ready for God.” Luke 1:13-17 | MSG
There are only a handful of divine birth announcements in the Bible. Isaac. Samson. Samuel. John. And, of course, Jesus. Maybe another one or two I can’t think of at the moment. Most of us spend our entire life trying to figure out who we are – and many of us still don’t have a clue when we are lowered back down into the earth’s womb or are scattered on its waters. We dream of being athletes and movie stars, of making it big on the music scene or sitting in the Oval Office. And we’re probably doing well if we are even ready to declare a major by our third year in college – if we stay in school. And we’re constantly reinventing ourselves. And there’s nothing wrong with that – in fact, the adventure of reinventing ourselves is half the fun of life! When viewed in that light, perhaps being handed such a detailed prospectus at one’s birth might seem limiting, confining – like being handed a paint-by-the-numbers portrait and then being told, “This is your life!” Seen that way, who of us wouldn’t want to mark it “Return to Sender”? I’ll take the adventure and uncertainty of reinventing myself. Several times, thank you. But reading John’s birth announcement again, I’m not seeing a pre-programmed paint-by-numbers work. His life, like ours, was handed to him as a blank canvas with delineated borders that would ultimately fit within a definite frame – along with a palette of specific colors. You won’t drink. You will be filled with God’s Spirit from the womb. You will impact your generation. You will be strong and yet will soften hearts. You will attune your generation to the very heartbeat of God himself. That’s quite the palette – and what a canvas to splash it on! And John splashed, literally. Wild hair (no doubt), wild clothes, wild diet, wild message. The Immerser. The Dipper. He may have moved in the spirit and power of Elijah, but I see instructive parallels between John and Samson. Both had births announced with great promise. Both were “wild men” of sorts. Both had vows (John kept his, Samson, not so much). Both opened the door to deliverance for an oppressed people. Both ended with a martyr’s death. John seems to have splashed the colors of his palette well; Samson, not so well – and one could argue he introduced some darker hues and in significant ways walked away from his canvas. One brought the house down on himself avenging the loss of his eyes; the other in pointing all eyes to the Lamb of God was willing to lose everything in pursuing his call – including his own head. I suppose we all land somewhere on the continuum between Samson and John. We are all born with purpose and promise, even if not spelled out in a detailed prospectus; we are all given a canvas along with a palette of colors that we spend our entire life discovering (hopefully). The question is, just what is it we are splashing on the canvas of our life?
So how about it? Have you discovered purpose in your life – have you found your canvas? What are you splashing on it?
Lord, let me embrace with fresh creative zest the canvas of life laid out before me – and give me the courage to play with all the colors with strong, bold strokes of Life that will soften hearts to your Love and tender mercies. Through Christ.
For all of this week’s resources for this new series on Spiritual Disciplines including this week’s DG video, check out the Vineyard website.