Nativity of St. John the Baptist (B)



June 24, 2018

You, child, will be called prophet of the Most High, for you will go before the Lord to prepare his way“.

The readings for today´s Mass do not follow the usual sequence for a Sunday in Ordinary Time; the reason is that today we celebrate the Solemnity of the Birth of John the Baptist. Our liturgy only celebrates three birthdays: Jesus´ on December 25th, Mary´s on September 8th, and John the Baptist´s on June 24th, six months before Christmas. The importance of this celebration is not as much as John is Jesus´ cousin, but that he is Jesus´ forerunner and his herald. He had the privilege to point Jesus out as the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. Before the infancy narrative of Jesus, Luke introduces his gospel with the events about the birth of John the Baptist. We read that the priest Zechariah and his wife Elizabeth are advanced in years and are childless. At the time Zechariah is performing his priestly duty in the temple, an angel appears and says to him that Elizabeth will bear a son and that he will call him John. But because Zechariah did not believe the angel, he became mute for a while.

The birthday of the Baptist is related to the birthday of Jesus. John´s birth was also announced by an angel to his father Zechariah: “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, because your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear a son, and you shall name him John (…) He will be filled with the Holy Spirit even from his mother´s womb, and he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God” (Luke 1: 13, 15c-16).

Today we hear in the Gospel: “When the time arrived for Elizabeth to have her child she gave birth to a son. Her neighbors and relatives (…) rejoiced with her (…) they were going to call him Zechariah after his father, but his mother said in reply, ´No. He will be called John´ (…) His father wrote in a tablet, ´John is his name,´ and all were amazed. Immediately his mouth was opened, his tongue free, and he spoke blessing God (…) All said, ´What, then, will this child be?´ For surely the hand of the Lord was with him.´” The Hebrew name for John is “Yehohanan”, which means “Yahweh shows favor”. This child grew and became spiritually strong, for his vocation was to be a prophet of the Most High.

In the secular society the term prophet means someone who is able to predict something that could happen in the future, or make a good guess about, for instance, sport, or political results, and these turn out as they were anticipated. In biblical terms, however, prophecy does not necessarily refer to the future; it is the proclamation of God´s truth, and therefore the prophet speaks on behalf of God. John the Baptist was a prophet since he basically proclaimed Jesus as the Lamb of God, but he also was brave enough to tell Herod that it was not right for him to take his brother´s wife.

Isaiah gives us a profile of a prophet when he tells us in today´s first reading: “The Lord called me from birth, from my mother´s womb he gave me my name (…) You are my servant, he said to me (…) I will make you a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.” The prophet Malachi foretelling the future Messiah says, “Behold I send my messenger to prepare the way before me”; and this messenger was John the Baptist, who came to preach repentance as a preparation to receive Christ´s baptism. In this way John is the greatest of the prophets in the Old Testament and is the first of the prophets in the New Testament.

Zechariah filled with the Holy Spirit said a prayer of thanksgiving to God; this prayer is called in the old Latin the Benedictus, “…You, my child, shall be called the prophet of the Most High, for you will go before the Lord to prepare his way, to give his people knowledge of salvation by the forgiveness of their sins...” (cf. Luke 1: 68-79) We remember this praise every day in the Morning Prayer of the Divine Office, the official Church prayer. Since Pentecost, and through the sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation, we too, as John the Baptist, are called to be prophets, even if it could be unpopular, but especially being witnesses of hope, reconciliation, and peace.

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