The villagers were fascinated with all the comings and goings at old Zechariah’s house. The arrival of Elizabeth’s young cousin to help her as her time to deliver drew closer made sense. What was harder to fathom was why she had travelled alone, and why one so young was already showing signs of pending motherhood. All the villagers loved Zechariah and Elizabeth, but this didn’t stop them wanting to know every single detail of their extraordinary situation. With Zechariah unable to speak since his last visit to the Temple, it fell to Elizabeth to try to answer their probing question. Her face radiated joy as she told of the visit of the messenger within the temple, all those weeks ago; she would hold her swollen tummy as she thanked God for the gift of new life they had been blessed with, even in their old age. But of the young Mary she would say little, save that her new husband had received difficult news and had been unable to travel with her. The pending birth quickly became a village event. Those Elizabeth had taught began bringing little gifts and keepsakes for the child. The men of the village would afford Zechariah the place of honour at the village gateway where they spent most days to debate, and discuss, the events of the time. They quickly overcame Zechariah’s inability to speak by giving him a slate and a soft stone to write his words. Zechariah noticed the awe and questioning wonder of his companions, but he also noticed their tendency to shout at him, as if he were deaf too. On a couple of occasions, they would grab his slate to write a message, forgetting that it was only his speech that was affected.
He knew the moment that he saw Mary running towards them at the gateway that it was time. Sending the excited and slightly anxious teenager back to Elizabeth ahead of him, he slowly stretched aching limbs and followed her, a large crowd gathering behind him, everyone wondering the same thing: would all be well? And it was, God was merciful to the proud mother who was already sitting up, nursing her son as Zechariah entered their room, closing the door quietly to hold back the noisy excited crowds behind him. He looked with raw emotion and joy upon his son, a thick head of dark wild hair already upon his still wet head. Huge tears of thanksgiving rolled down his face as he held his child for the very first time. He and Elizabeth shared a moment of deep intimacy that Mary was greatly moved to witness. All the years and hollow tears were wiped away by this incredible experience.
The clamour outside grew louder as everyone strained to know what was happening. With a weary smile he turned back to the door, Elizabeth now standing beside him, as they prepared to present their new-born son to their friends and neighbours. The ensuing joy and laughter subsided when someone asked, ‘So Zechariah what name will you give the boy?’ It was a question meant in jest; the Levite priests always passed on their names to their firstborn, Zechariah was the fifteenth in his own family’s history with that name. Elizabeth spoke up for her still silent husband. ‘His name is John!’ A strange hush fell upon them all. ‘Surely not’, some muttered ‘to break with such an important family tradition’. They pressed around the new family, some shouting some gesturing their question. Zechariah turned to Elizabeth and gave her his son, then to Mary to signal that he needed his writing slate. In large clear letters he scratched out ‘HIS NAME IS JOHN’. At that very moment, God’s messenger touched his tongue and Zechariah could speak again. ‘His name is John’, he told them, and then he began to sing.