The Nativity of St. John the Baptist – 18
Is 49:1-6; Acts 13:22-26; Lk 1:57-66, 80
Mother Teresa relates this incident from her life. Once a man came to the home for the dying in India, and just walked straight into the ward. Mother Teresa was sitting there.
A while later the man came to Mother and said to her, “I came here with so much hate in my heart; hate for God and hate for man. I came here empty and embittered.
John the Baptist, as foretold by the prophet Isaiah was the voice that was making the way straight for the Lord. He facilitated the coming of Jesus. He paved the way for Christ’s coming by his austere life, preaching and death.
We celebrate the feast of the Birth of John the Baptist this Sunday instead of the Twelfth Sunday in Ordinary Time because of John’s prominent role in the history of salvation as the forerunner of the Messiah.
Some might wonder why the birth of Saint John the Baptist is such a big feast-day, and why it is celebrated on just this date in June.
The date for the feast is quite easy to explain. Just three months ago, on March 25th, we celebrated the feast of the Annunciation, when Mary, our Blessed Mother, conceived the child Jesus in response to the word of God.
That same day she also heard about the pregnancy of her elderly cousin Elizabeth, and quickly set out to visit, so as to be of help to Elizabeth at that special time.
Having stayed for about three months in the house of Elizabeth and Zechariah, that is, until John was safely born, Mary returned to her own home in Nazareth.
The joyful importance of John’s birthday can be linked to the meaning of his name in Hebrew. “Yeho-hanan,” means “the Lord is gracious”.
And as Luke’s account underlines, in sending John the Baptist God had shown great favor, not just to the childless couple, Zechariah and Elizabeth, but to the whole of humanity.
Before the Baptist came on the scene, the prophetic voice in Israel has been silent for 400 years. When John came into the desert near the river Jordan, he breathed fire and preached repentance and renewal.
All four Gospels agree that it was he who prepared the way for Jesus the Christ, the Anointed One of God. So, the whole Christian traditions honors John the Baptist as the precursor, the one who ran ahead as herald of the graciousness from God which came through Jesus, filled with grace and truth.
There is an apt comparison of John’s birth with that of Jesus in this text from St. Augustine:
“John, it seems, has been inserted as a kind of boundary between the two Testaments, the Old and the New. That he is somehow or other a boundary is something that the Lord himself indicates when he says, The Law and the prophets were until John.
So, he represents the old and heralds the new. Because he represents the old, he is born of an elderly couple; because he represents the new, he is revealed as a prophet in his mother’s womb.
You will remember that, before he was born, at Mary’s arrival he leapt in his mother’s womb. Already he had been marked out there, designated before he was born; it was already shown whose forerunner he would be, even before he saw him.
These are divine matters and exceed the measure of human frailty. Finally, he is born, he receives a name, and his father’s tongue is loosed.
Zachary is struck dumb and loses his voice, until John, the Lord’s forerunner, is born and releases his voice for him. What does Zachary’s silence mean, but that prophecy was obscure and, before the proclamation of Christ, somehow concealed and locked up?
It is released and opened up by his arrival, it becomes clear when the one who was being prophesied is about to come. The releasing of Zachary’s voice at the birth of John has the same significance as the tearing of the veil of the Temple at the crucifixion of Christ.
If John were meant to proclaim himself, he would not be opening Zachary’s mouth. The tongue is released because a voice is being born — for when John was already heralding the Lord, he was asked, who are you and he replied I am the voice of one crying in the desert.
John is the voice, but the Lord in the beginning was the Word. John is a voice for a time, but Christ is the eternal Word from the beginning.”
Now do you remember the person I was referring in the beginning who came to see Mother Teresa’s convent. That man said to Mother Teresa.
“And now I am going back because I saw a Sister giving her wholehearted attention to that patient there and realized that God still lives. Now I go out a different man. I believe there is a God and he loves us still.”
That sister paved the way for God in that embittered man’s life. As the Baptist pointed the right way for his people, each of us in quiet ways can do for people in our time. We can help tell our neighbors about the graciousness and the favor of God.
The name John means God is gracious, or God shows favor. We too have a significant name, for being Christians implies that we are sharing in the mission of Jesus. It means that we are to be like other Christs to the world.
May we be blessed with the grace of God, to fulfil our mission as faithfully as John did his.
Be Blessed and be a blessing. Amen.