Readings: Is 49:1-6; Acts 13:22-26; Lk 1:57-66,80
“A man sent from God, whose name was John (Jn 1:6); who “came to testify to the light” (Lk 1:17). These phrases from the Entrance Antiphon lead us into the solemnity we celebrate this Sunday, - the Nativity of St. John the Baptist. The solemnity is one of the ancient liturgical feasts listed already in the beginning of the 6th century (506 AD). With the exception of the Mother of God, no other saint plays a central role in the history of salvation like John the Baptist. This feast falls on June 24, 6 months before and after Christmas, and therefore forms what is liturgically known as the ‘Christmas Cycle’ with the Annunciation on March 25 each year. There are striking similarities between the birth of John the Baptist and that of Jesus. Both are announced by the Angel Gabriel and a mystery surrounds their birth. The first reading from the prophet Isaiah is a pointer to what John is going to be – one called by the Lord from birth; given a name before he was born and formed as the Lord’s servant from the womb. John is indeed chosen and sent by God. Jesus called John the greatest of those who had preceded him: I tell you, among those born of woman, no one is greater than John. John is the last of the Old Testament prophets. He is the one who baptizes and announces the Messiah, “Behold the lamb of God.”
The Gospel reading is like a drama that unfolds with a mysterious birth, and leads to a naming ceremony on the eighth day by relatives not knowing that the child has already been named from above. His name is John, which means “the Lord is gracious.” The mysterious birth of John reveals the mercy and favor of God in preparing his chosen people for the coming of the Messiah, the Christ. The Gospel gives us a lead into the mystery of this child, John the Baptist. “What will this child turn out to be”, relatives wonder. John’s life was fueled by one burning passion to point others to Jesus Christ and the coming kingdom. It was his task to awaken the interest of people on the immanent coming of the kingdom, and therefore the importance of receiving a baptism of repentance. John’s mission was one of leading his listeners to Jesus, the Messiah. So what do we learn from this solemnity? What is the significance of John’s message for our lives today? 1) John the Baptist challenges us to embrace his message of true repentance in preparation for receiving Christ when he comes; 2) Like John the Baptist, we too are given the mission of pointing others to Christ by our life of witness, pointing others the way to Jesus Christ; 3) Let us pray for the gift of true repentance and the grace to be true witnesses of Christ as John the Baptist was, to the point of martyrdom.
©2018 John S. Mbinda