Solemnity of the Nativity of St. John the Baptist
Is 49:1-6 Ps 139 Acts 13:22-26 Lk 1:57-66,80
Deacon Jim McFadden; St. John the Baptist C.C.
Birthdays are a special time to remember and give thanks for the blessings that have come our way. It’s a good time to ask ourselves, “Am I grateful for the way that God has worked in our life, even from our birth?” John was certainly grateful as he leapt in the womb of his mother Elizabeth when they were in the presence of the Lord who was in Mary’s womb at the Visitation.
The birthday of Saint John the Baptist is remembered throughout the Church, which is special because he is the only saint—with the exception of the Blessed Virgin Mary—whose birth the liturgy celebrates and it does so because it is closely connected with the mystery of the Incarnation of the Son of God. In fact, from the moment John was in Elizabeth’s womb, John was a precursor of Jesus: the angel announced to Mary his miraculous conception as a sign that “nothing is impossible to God” (Lk 1:37) six months before the great miracle that brings us salvation in Jesus, whose very name means God saves.
John the Baptist is a pivotal, transitional figure who concludes the promises of the Old Testament and inaugurates the New, by identifying Jesus of Nazareth as the Messiah, the Anointed One of the Lord. In fact, Jesus acknowledged John’s unique role in salvation history by saying, “This is he of whom it is written ‘Behold I send my messenger before your face, who shall prepare your way before you. Truly I say to you, among those born of women there as risen no one grater than John the Baptist” (Mt 11:10-11).
From the get-go, John’s life was all about Mission, which is true for all of us. As our Holy Father Pope Francis writes in his recent apostolic exhortation, Rejoice and Be Glad, “Each saint is a mission planned by the Father to reflect and embody, at a specific moment in history, a certain aspect of the Gospel.” By virtue of our Baptism in which we were initiated into the Body of Christ, the Church, this is what we’re called to be. You see, brothers and sisters, it’s not that the Church has a mission that we can choose from many options; rather, the Mission of Christ—which is to bring about the salvation of the world through the proclamation of the Good News—has a Church. And, we are the Church and therefore, we are that Mission.
The reading from Isaiah in our first reading expands on this notion, teaching that a person’s name reveals the mission that God has planned.
Elizabeth announced that “John is his name.” Yehohanan means “The Lord is gracious; the Lord has compassion.” John’s name would describe his mission, which would reflect the divine compassion that would burst into the world through the Incarnation. This compassion is always expressed in generous self-giving, which we hear that “Whoever has two tunics should share with the person who has none. And whoever has food should do likewise” (LK 3:11). John’s preaching rings of the book of Leviticus, “Be compassionate, for I am compassionate, says the Lord!”
John the Baptist’s life was fueled by one burning passion: to point others to Jesus Christ and to the coming of the Kingdom of God. Scripture tells us that John was filled with the Holy Spirit even while residing in his mother’s womb and that he rejoiced by being present to Christ Himself who was in Mary’s womb. The Spirit that dwelt within John propelled him to be the forerunner of the coming Messiah. John was so on fire with the Spirit’s presence that he willingly was led to the desert prior to his ministry, where he could go into that emptiness to be filled by divine grace. That grace would fortify him as he was tested and he would grow in the word of God, which he would proclaim to the world in advance of Jesus’ ministry.
What’s our take-away for the birthday of St. John the Baptist? God has saved us through His only begotten Son, Jesus, Who has filled us with the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. Like John, our faith has come alive to the promises fulfilled in Jesus. Each and every day the Lord is ready to renew us in faith, hope, and love. We’re challenged to follow John’s example. Just as He did with the Baptizer, we are invited to make our life a free-will offering to God, which is concretely expressed by feeding and tending to Jesus’ sheep and lambs. God wants us to share in His glory here and now from our birth to our natural death. Let us celebrate the birthday of St. John the Baptist by renewing the offering of our life to God and to give Him thanks for his mercy and favor that he bestows upon us every moment of our existence. Thanks be to God!