NATIVITY OF ST. JOHN THE BAPTIST
Psalm 139:1-3, 13-15
Luke 1:57-66, 80
It was not that long ago when only “feasts of the Lord” were to take precedence over the regularly scheduled Sunday readings. A saint like John the Baptist at one time would never have replaced the Sunday schedule, but since 1970 the Nativity of John the Baptist is celebrated as a Solemnity, and gives the Sunday-only-Mass-goers the opportunity to focus more sharply on the special role John played in salvation history.
John is a most unusual saint, in that he never became a disciple of Jesus. For some reason, the Holy Spirit did not bestow on him the gift of faith in Jesus. John is one of a few figures from the Christian Scriptures whom we call a saint even though they were not followers of Jesus. Yet John had the privilege of baptizing his cousin, Jesus, and he possessed the insight to recognize him as the “Lamb of God” (John).
The Baptist had a sense of purpose. He knew who he was and, more importantly, he knew what he had been called to do. He is the fulfillment of Isaiah’s words in the first reading who proclaims that “the Lord called me from birth, from my mother’s womb he gave me my name,” and in that womb the Lord “formed me as his servant.” John’s famous “leap” in his mother’s womb at the presence of the Mother of God, described in Luke’s Visitation story, confirmed how special John was.
John’s sense of purpose was no doubt born of those years spent in solitude, those years when he “matured in spirit” while living in the desert. It is in the quietest moments of life that God’s voice can be heard more clearly. When he finally made his “public appearance” John had become a fiery preacher, unafraid to call soldiers and tax collectors to reform their lives. John’s brief ministry would come to an end because he spoke the truth about King Herod, the conniving, cowardly womanizer who exercised a great deal of power, but who had little to no conscience. Herod was uninterested in what was right and just.
John was the last of the Old Testament’s prophets, the precursor of the Lord. His privilege was to ready the people who lived in darkness, to prepare them for the light from heaven that was breaking into the world. John was God’s “sharp sword” and “polished arrow” spoken of by Isaiah. He appears to have had a keen understanding of what God had called him to do, and yet his humility kept him from ever being confused that he was the long awaited Messiah. John placed his trust in the God who called him rather than in his own vision or understanding. He was faithful to his calling, and satisfied that his role in God’s plan of salvation was to point. The commentator Mary McGlone has said John “called his people to prepare their lives and hearts for what was to come, but he couldn’t proclaim a mystery that was yet to be revealed. Living a vocation that seemingly required more faith than Jesus ever asked of his disciples, John’s most powerful preaching was,and still is, the example of his life. Authentic to the core, John remained passionately dedicated to his mission.”
So why do we celebrate the birth of John the Baptist on this Twelfth Sunday of the Year? In order that we might become more like the Baptist. “Who better than John to teach us how to cultivate hope and help others trust in God’s unpredictable, unlimited faithfulness?” (McGlone). John’s destiny, and ours, is to be a light, to “go before the Lord to prepare his way.” It is through us that “the tender compassion of our God… shines on those who sit in darkness and in the shadow[s].” Our Christian vocation makes us, like John the Baptist, precursors of the Lord. Can we be like John, a faithful and humble servant through whom God’s glory shows?
In closing I wish to share something written by Fr. Peter John Cameron, O.P., the Editor of Magnificat:
“The Nativity of Saint John the Baptist is a sacred reminder of the fact that every day I need born in my life:
• Someone who leaps with joy before the presence of the Lord, who makes me want to live my own relationship with Jesus with greater ardor and fervor;
• Someone to prepare the way of the Lord and to give me knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of my sins;
• Someone who turns my attention away from my distractions and preconceptions so that I will behold the Lamb of God as the true desire of my heart;
• Someone who models for me that there is no greater joy in my life than for Jesus to increase and for me to decrease, especially as regards my self-reliance, my self-assertion, my self-absorption;
• Someone who is a burning and shining lamp whose radiance gives light to my path and courage to my heart, making me want to live for others;
• Someone so committed to the truth that he is willing to lay down his life for the Truth-become-flesh—witnessing to me that all true happiness comes through self-sacrifice;
• Someone whose sanctity proclaims that there is no man born of woman greater than he is, but that I can share his greatness if I love Jesus as he did.
In the tender compassion of our God, the Dawn from on high has broken upon us through the birth of John the Baptist.”