June 24, 2018 — Solemnity of the Nativity of St. John the Baptist
In Luke 1:13 the Archangel Gabriel visits the parents-to-be of St. John the Baptist, Elizabeth and Zechariah, and says, “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, because your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall name him John.” Today we celebrate the Birth of John the Baptist. For Luke the birth of John the Baptist closely parallels the birth of Jesus. John the Baptist’s birth is the prelude to the birth of Jesus.
The Archangel Gabriel announces to our Blessed Mother Mary also that she will bear a son. At that same time he revealed to Mary that her cousin Elizabeth was six months pregnant. Mary journeys to visit Elizabeth. You may recall that during that visit the baby “leapt” in Elizabeth’s womb when Mary greeted her. John the Baptist knew even then that this was the Messiah.
From the prophet Isaiah, who provides our First Reading, comes the voice of the Messiah announcing his impending arrival (albeit centuries later). The Lord says, “Hear me, O coastlands, listen, O distant peoples. The Lord called me from birth; from my mother’s womb he gave me my name.” Although this statement is Jesus speaking, it would be equally accurate about St. John the Baptist.
The Messiah begins by commanding the coastlands and distant peoples to listen to him. This is most likely a reference to the Gentiles. In an interesting statement, Jesus says, “He made of me a sharp edged sword.” This is not a reference to anything warlike or militaristic. Jesus Himself is the sword. This means that His very words, the Word of God, have power and authority. Weapons are left to others; Jesus needs only to speak.
When He says, “You are my servant, Israel, through whom I show my glory,” we must keep in mind that the name Israel means “governed by God.” This is Isaiah’s way to make it clear that the Messiah Whom he is predicting represents Israel, that as part of the Holy Trinity Jesus is indeed not only governed by God, but is God.
In reference to the quote from the Gospel of Luke that appears in the opening paragraph of this reflection, the Archangel Gabriel not only told Elizabeth and Zechariah that they were to name the baby John, but the angel continues “And you will receive joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth.” The tradition at the time was that when a birth was imminent, friends and local musicians gathered near the house. When the birth was announced, and if it was a boy, the musicians would break into song, and there was general congratulations and rejoicing. This was natural but it was also a clear demonstration of the significance of the birth of John the Baptist.
The Church selected June 24 for this celebration, not because there is any definite record that is when it occurred, but because that is in keeping with the birth of Jesus six months later. St. John the Baptist began his public ministry around 30 A.D. He was known for attracting large crowds throughout Judea and near the Jordan River. When Jesus came to him to be baptized in the Jordan, John knew Him and said, “I need to be baptized by you, and yet you are coming to me.” (According to the Gospel of Matthew)
John not only recognized the divinity of Jesus, he emphasized it with his sizable following. He told his followers to turn to Christ. It was John who called Jesus the Lamb of God. Many of John’s followers became what we might term to be the first Christians.
We hear in today’s Gospel, speaking of John the Baptist, “The child grew and became strong in spirit.” If that sounds familiar, it may be because it is so similar to what we hear about Jesus one chapter later (Luke 2:40): “And as the child grew to maturity, he was filled with wisdom, and God’s favor was with him.” We learn some important lessons from John the Baptist.
First, we need to put total trust in God, in Jesus, just as he did. Also, stewardship calls us to serve God and others. Like his cousin Jesus John the Baptist came to serve, not to be served. We are summoned to do the same.