The Nativity of St. John the Baptist
Luke 1:57-66, 80
The mere scheduling of celebrating a saint’s feast day on any Sunday sends a message. The Church long has preferred to observe Sundays in their proper sequence in Ordinary Time, Lent, Advent and so forth. When a saint’s feast pre-empts this pattern, the Church is saying that the saint, and the saint’s life, have extraordinary lessons for us.
This weekend, instead of noting the Twelfth Sunday in Ordinary Time, the Church calls us to reflect upon St. John the Baptist. Prominent in the Gospels, he is a kinsman of Jesus and Mary, and highly revered among Christians since the time of the Lord on earth.
The series of readings for this feast all enable us to think about John the Baptist’s special place in Christian minds and hearts all through the centuries, and about the reasons for this ancient devotion.
In the first reading, the Book of Isaiah sets the stage. Typically eloquent, this book fairly soars in its expectation and joy, revealing feelings for the Redeemer. Their trust endures. God will rescue them.
They have brought the worst upon themselves. Their enemies have been mighty, but God is almighty, and God forgives.
For the second reading, the Church presents a lesson from the Acts of the Apostles. St. Paul speaks in this reading, telling his audience that God always has intended for humans to possess eternal life, that Jesus made this life available and that John the Baptist boldly gave the criteria by which eternal life could be realized. John called for rejection of sin.
Again, this reading asserts the majesty of God and proclaims that God forever is merciful and life-giving.
St. Luke’s Gospel, the site for so much detail concerning the conception, birth and childhood of the Lord, supplies the final reading.
It is about the birth of John the Baptist, the son of Zechariah and Elizabeth.
A noteworthy moment is when Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist, loses his ability to speak. It is not a cruel act of a harsh god. Instead, it reveals that John the Baptist has been created by God and he will be sent by God, for that in that time and place salvation will come in the person of Jesus.
This special role of John the Baptist, and of its origin even in his conception and birth, is emphasized in the fact that God names him. Naming of persons, as of things, for the ancient Jews had a proprietary quality. Parents asserted this, and still assert it in this culture, when they name their children — one of the most cherished privileges of being parents.
John the Baptist belonged to God.
In turn, this aspect of John the Baptist’s life and mission reflects the fact that God wills that people be saved. He wills that they have eternal life. God sent John.
Of course, we may circumvent,
or negate altogether God’s will.
The Church offers John the Baptist as the great model of discipleship; as a figure, human in every respect as are we, who fully understood the purpose of life — namely, to be with God. He devoted everything in his life, and finally his life itself, to serving this purpose.
John’s life calls us to imitation, to see nothing as more important than to be with God.
The readings remind us that God wills that we experience eternal life. He never impedes us in our way to salvation. The exact opposite is true. He even gave us Jesus, the Son of God, as our savior.
The choice remains with us, Paul would insist. We must accept the fact that eternal life is everything. We must want to be with God.
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