Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Birth of John the Baptist

Solemnity of the Nativity of Saint John the Baptist

Today's Readings:
Isaiah 49:1-6
Ps 139:1b-3, 13-15
Acts 13:22-26
Luke 1:57-66, 80


How are you like John the Baptist?

On this day that celebrates the birth of John the Baptist, let's consider how much like him you are.

The first reading gives us a description of the type of person who prepares the way for Christ to enter people's hearts. God commissioned John the Baptist for ministry at his birth and gave him his name while he was still in his mother's womb. In other words, his vocation for the kingdom of God was his identity. The Lord did the same with you! Since the moment of your conception, even before you looked human and had a beating heart and a brain that could think, he named you as his precious child.

The Lord gifted John with a sharp-edged sword, i.e., God gave him the ability to speak the truth (the sword of the Spirit), which cuts through the lies and deceptions of evil. He gave you the same gift during your baptism when you received the Holy Spirit.

The Lord concealed John in the shadow of his arm, i.e., he protected him from the Enemy so that John would be available to serve the kingdom of God. No matter how difficult your life has been, and no matter how many times you strayed from the Lord, you still belong to him. He has kept you from being snatched by the Evil One.

Even though you have sometimes toiled in vain and your efforts to do God's work have seemingly been for nothing, as if you've uselessly spent your strength, like John, your reward is with the Lord. He will reward you generously.

No matter how ugly you think you are, no matter if you are too short or too tall or diseased or malformed by a birth defect, you look glorious to the Lord, your Creator. The responsorial Psalm confirms this: You are wonderfully made! Since the moment of your conception, your life has been precious and important.

As it was with John, God has become your strength. And like John, what you think you can do for the Lord is "too little" compared to what he knows you can do, regardless of how young or old you are now. He has bigger plans for you, a more important use for your gifts and talents and experiences and training than what you've been able thus far to imagine. He will make his light shine through you! His salvation will reach others as long as you're willing to serve him and you act upon this desire.

What Luke 1:80 tells us of John is true of you also: You are God's child, growing and becoming strong in spirit. You have experienced the desert of hardships and training, you have suffered and lacked and thirsted and hungered. You are receiving from God the nourishment that can quench your neediness and fill you with his love.

Everything that has happened to you can become valuable and useful when you let God send you forth in service for his kingdom.

Jesus called John the greatest of all those who had preceded him: “I tell you, among those born of women, no one is greater than John....” But John would have agreed completely with what Jesus added: “[Y]et the least in the kingdom of God is greater than he” (Luke 7:28).

John spent his time in the desert, an ascetic. He began to announce the coming of the Kingdom, and to call everyone to a fundamental reformation of life.

His purpose was to prepare the way for Jesus. His Baptism, he said, was for repentance. But One would come who would baptize with the Holy Spirit and fire. John is not worthy even to carry his sandals. His attitude toward Jesus was: “He must increase; I must decrease” (John 3:30).

John was humbled to find among the crowd of sinners who came to be baptized the one whom he already knew to be the Messiah. “I need to be baptized by you” (Matthew 3:14b). But Jesus insisted, “Allow it now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness” (Matthew 3:15b). Jesus, true and humble human as well as eternal God, was eager to do what was required of any good Jew. John thus publicly entered the community of those awaiting the Messiah. But making himself part of that community, he made it truly messianic.

The greatness of John, his pivotal place in the history of salvation, is seen in the great emphasis Luke gives to the announcement of his birth and the event itself—both made prominently parallel to the same occurrences in the life of Jesus. John attracted countless people (“all Judea”) to the banks of the Jordan, and it occurred to some people that he might be the Messiah. But he constantly deferred to Jesus, even to sending away some of his followers to become the first disciples of Jesus.

Perhaps John’s idea of the coming of the Kingdom of God was not being perfectly fulfilled in the public ministry of Jesus. For whatever reason, he sent his disciples (when he was in prison) to ask Jesus if he was the Messiah. Jesus’ answer showed that the Messiah was to be a figure like that of the Suffering Servant in Isaiah. John himself would share in the pattern of messianic suffering, losing his life to the revenge of Herodias.


John challenges us Christians to the fundamental attitude of Christianity—total dependence on the Father, in Christ. Except for the Mother of God, no one had a higher function in the unfolding of salvation. Yet the least in the kingdom, Jesus said, is greater than he, for the pure gift that the Father gives. The attractiveness as well as the austerity of John, his fierce courage in denouncing evil—all stem from his fundamental and total placing of his life within the will of God.


"And this is not something which was only true once, long ago in the past. It is always true, because the repentance which he preached always remains the way into the kingdom which he announced. He is not a figure that we can forget now that Jesus, the true light, has appeared. John is always relevant because he calls for a preparation which all men need to make. Hence every year there are four weeks in the life of the Church in which it listens to the voice of the Baptist. These are the weeks of Advent" (A New Catechism).


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