Nativity of john the Baptist
We celebrate the feast of the Birth of John the Baptist this Sunday instead of the Twelfth Sunday in Ordinary Time because of the important role John is playing in the history of salvation as the forerunner of the Messiah. This is a phenomenal feast – and a rare one. Only three times during the year does the Church celebrate a birthday: for Jesus, for His mother…and for John the Baptist. The Baptist is in famous company, and this serves to remind us just how important he is to our salvation history.
When you consider the circumstances surrounding it, the Nativity of John the Baptist is almost as full of wonder as the nativity of Jesus. Like Jesus’s birth, there is great mystery. There was an angel who announced it, and parents who hadn’t planned on it, and a name for the baby that was chosen by God. William Shakespeare in his play Romeo and Juliet wrote, “What’s in a name? A rose by any other name would smell just as sweet.” Actually, in Biblical names there was often a rich meaning in the name. When the time came to circumcise this child, neighbors and relatives expected him to be named after his father, Zechariah. But his mother insisted, “No, he is to be called John.” “The name, “John,” in Hebrew is “Yehohanan.” It means “The Lord is gracious,” or maybe better, “The Lord shows favor.” The birthday of John Baptist relates to the birth of Jesus. The Church selected the time of the winter solstice to celebrate the birth of Jesus because from that time the days gradually grow longer; the amount of daylight increases. The Church selected the time of the summer solstice to celebrate the birth of the Baptist because from this time the days gradually grow shorter; the amount of daylight diminishes. This symbolizes the words of the Baptist in speaking of Jesus, “He must increase while I must decrease”
“He will be called John” because God is gracious, not only for Zechariah and Elizabeth but for all of us! As the gospel indicates, the name is not an accident. It was pronounced by the angel Gabriel – and its meaning serves to send a message to the world. In giving an aging, childless couple a new life…God is gracious. In making what seemed impossible possible…God is gracious. In working miracles where we least expect…God is gracious. Because in John the Baptist, he gives a perfect example of what means to be a man of God in a culture that is totally hostile to the principles of God. What can we learn from John the Baptist about modern Christian life in a confused culture?
First of all he was Unashamed. In our modern day American culture, the message of the cross is a scandal to the world and to mention the name of Jesus is offensive, and to claim to be a follower of Jesus is to open yourself up for ridicule and attack. John the Baptist would stand firm and remain unashamed of Jesus Christ in the midst of a perverse culture. In fact, that’s what he did in the midst of his perverse Jesus hating culture too. Where is the spirit of John the Baptist today?
Secondly, John was a prophet of Truth Proclaiming. To preach the gospel is to preach truth, and to proclaim the truth is to shine light into the darkness. That’s not always a popular thing. John the Baptist was proclaiming the truth, and the truth involved the facts about Herod’s incestuous and adulterous relationship with Herodias – his brother’s wife. Mark gives us the details in his gospel account: For it was Herod who had sent and seized John and bound him in prison for the sake of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, because he had married her.  For John had been saying to Herod, “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife” (Mark 6:17-18). As Mother Teresa once said “You can’t be faithful and popular, so take your pick.” John the Baptist was willing to be faithful to the truth and his popularity didn’t matter so much to him. The popularity of the truth was more important to the Baptizer. As we see with John the Baptist, to stand on the truth often means to stand exposed and to stand alone. Where is the spirit of John the Baptist today?
Thirdly, he was not afraid of Risk-Taking for the sake of the kingdom of God.
Calling out Herod Antipas was not the politically correct thing to do in John the Baptist’s day. He boldly proclaimed truth. Christians must be willing to take risks in order to proclaim the gospel. In fact, to spread the gospel in private or on a public stage is risky business. It could cost you your job, political advancement, friends, family, and perhaps your very life. John the Baptist proclaimed the truth even when he was opposed. He was warned to keep quiet, but he continued to thunder the truth about God and the sexual sin of Herod Antipas. Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, among those born of women there has arisen no one greater than John the Baptist” (Matthew 11:11). Where is the spirit of John the Baptist today?
In the gospel of Mathew 11: 11 Jesus gives a testimony on John the Baptist. “Amen, I say to you, among those born of women there has been none greater than John the Baptist; yet the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and the violent are taking it by force”.
Reluctantly, an attractive young woman came to the annual parish retreat. She had not wanted to come, but knew she needed to. Sitting in the very back of the church trying not to be noticed, she heard the priest talk about how much Jesus loved her, what he had done for her, and how he wanted to come into her heart. The talk touched her deeply, but when the time came for the Sacrament of Reconciliation, everything inside of her wanted to avoid confessing her sins. Forcing herself to follow her conscience regardless of how she felt, the woman went to Confession, poured out her soul, and begged for forgiveness. Minutes later, after years of bearing the burden of her guilt, she felt completely free! She knew for sure that God had forgiven her, and she was filled with an indescribable peace. Taking the kingdom of heaven by force doesn’t mean attacking it as an army would attack an enemy stronghold. Rather, it means working with God to bring our fallen nature to him for healing and reconciliation. At times, it means taking ourselves by force to come to be cleansed and made whole.
John the Baptist was great is because he proclaimed Jesus at the cost of his life. And hence, for us as disciples of Jesus, our proclamation of God’s kingdom will surely come with its struggles and prize. We get tempted; we face opposition, ridicule and criticism. But John the Baptist proclaimed Jesus and his kingdom like a roaring Lion. Like John the Baptist, we have to be courageous on our journey to heaven, never getting intimidated even if it demands your life and reputation. John’s interiorly prepared for the mission that had been entrusted to him. May our own prayer life prepare each and every one of us to fulfill the God given Mission!