HIS NAME IS JOHN... AND IN FACT THE HAND OF THE LORD WAS WITH HIM. A name was much more significant in the culture and times of the Bible. Throughout the New as well as the Old Testament names were chosen and imposed on their subjects with care and thought. The understanding was that a name related to the destiny and the personality of its bearer. Repeatedly we find that men who were specially chosen by God for some role of particular significance, they were given a new name. Abram became Abraham; Jacob was named Israel; Simon was given the name Peter, and Saul the persecutor was renamed Paul upon being converted to Christ. In today's Gospel there is question of imposing a name on an infant who has, already from the womb, been the object of God's special grace. His very conception took place as a result of a miraculous intervention announced beforehand by an angel. His name, John, Johanan in Hebrew, which means "God gives grace," imposed by order of heaven, is intended to signify that a new era of blessing and God's favor was to begin with his birth.
From his conception John then was associated with a severely ascetic and simple way of life, and with hope and joy at the same time. The angel Gabriel had announced both these aspects of his person which remained characteristic features of the entire course of his life.
"He shall be a joy for you and many shall rejoice in his birth. He shall be great before the Lord. And he will drink no wine or strong drink, and he shall be filled with the Holy Spirit from his mother's womb."
In a sense this admixture of self-denying austerity and hope and joy in the Holy Spirit became the hallmark of the Gospels. Even though Jesus was to take part in the banquets and celebrations of the people to whom his preaching was addressed, yet he also fasted, accepted all the hardships of frequent journeys by foot, and left his mother and relatives and preached a radical self-denial. At the same time, his message is one of hope and of joy in the Holy Spirit at contemplating God's plan of redemption and his ways of realizing it. "If anyone would follow me, let him deny himself, take up his cross every day and come after me (Lk 9: 23)." And after speaking of suffering persecution, he concludes by telling his hearers: "rejoice and be glad for your reward is great in heaven (Mt. 5: 12)."
This same message is addressed to each of us today at this Advent time in this Eucharist. We too are called to deny our selfish desires and ambitions, to follow after our crucified redeemer but also to be united with him who in this sacrament comes to us as the one who has conquered death and gives us a pledge and a firm hope of eternal life, united with him and with all those belonging to him, in undying bonds of love.
Abbot John Eudes Bamberger
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