Our American culture provides very little rites of passage as we grow into adults. Most rites of passage that we see exercised here in the United States either have a religious basis (for example, first communion) or a cultural background (quinceañera, for example). For me, I remember being baptized, which would be a religious rite of passage; I also remember getting my driver’s license, which would be a rite of passage that most U.S. teens experience. When we read about John’s circumcision, we are not only reading about his earliest rite of passage as a young Jew, but we are reading about a ceremony that marked him as a descendent of Abraham.
When we read about Zechariah’s journey, we left off with the people waiting for a blessing and never receiving one. I like how Beth Moore points out that everyone gathered for the circumcision and finally received their blessing when Zechariah’s and Elizabeth’s baby was named John. And what a blessing they received! Even though they witnessed God’s work with Zechariah, I wonder if they really understood Zechariah’s prophecy. Zechariah spoke of God’s promises to His people and then prophesied about John.
The timing of the prophecy is very interesting to me. Maybe I’m reading more into the moment, but I find it very interesting that Zechariah would be giving a prophecy about John and the Messiah during a circumcision. Basically, the circumcision was a symbol of God’s covenant with Abraham, and all Jews were to be circumcised to be considered part of God’s people. Without the circumcision, a person was not one of God’s chosen people. The reason I find this interesting is because Jesus took away the need for a physical mark to be a part of God’s family. Salvation was no longer due to lineage and law, but it was now through Jesus, the Messiah. Paul writes about this in Galatians 5 : 6, “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.” Romans 2 : 29 says, “No, a man is a Jew if he is one inwardly; and circumcision is circumcision of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the written code. Such a man’s praise is not from men, but from God.” Moses even talked about the deeper spiritual applications of circumcision in Deuteronomy 10 : 16 when he said, “Circumcise your hearts, therefore, and do not be stiff-necked any longer.”
I think God could have given Zechariah the ability to speak again as soon as John was born, but He chose to wait until John was named at the circumcision. The timing is awesome! I think God was showing us that Christ was going to make it a circumcision of our hearts when we believed in him. When we truly believe who Jesus is and the sacrifice he made in our place, the Spirit begins to change our heart. “The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.” I challenge myself as I ask the question, does my faith show? Is my faith expressing itself through love? What parts in my heart need to be carved away and filled with love?