24Jun 24th June. The Birth of John the Baptist

1) Isaiah 49:1-6

(The Lord called me before I was born; in my mother’s womb he named me.)

Listen to me, O coastlands, pay attention, you peoples from far away! The Lord called me before I was born, while I was in my mother’s womb he named me. He made my mouth like a sharp sword, in the shadow of his hand he hid me; he made me a polished arrow, in his quiver he hid me away. And he said to me, “You are my servant, Israel, in whom I will be glorified.” But I said, “I have laboured in vain, I have spent my strength for nothing and vanity; yet surely my cause is with the Lord, and my reward with my God.” And now the Lord says, who formed me in the womb to be his servant, to bring Jacob back to him, and that Israel might be gathered to him, for I am honoured in the sight of the Lord, and my God has become my strength– he says, “It is too light a thing that you should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to restore the survivors of Israel; I will give you as a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.”

2) Acts 13:22-26

(As background to the Gospel, Paul mentions the Baptist as herald of Christ.)

In those days, Paul said: God made David king of our ancestors.. In his testimony about him he said, “I have found David, son of Jesse, to be a man after my heart, who will carry out all my wishes.” Of this man’s posterity God has brought to Israel a Saviour, Jesus, as he promised; before his coming John had already proclaimed a baptism of repentance to all the people of Israel. And as John was finishing his work, he said, “What do you suppose that I am? I am not he. No, but one is coming after me; I am not worthy to untie the thong of the sandals on his feet.” “My brothers, you descendants of Abraham’s family, and others who fear God, to us the message of this salvation has been sent.

Gospel Luke 1:57-66, 80

(Celebration and joy at the birth of John the Baptist.)

The time came for Elizabeth to give birth, and she bore a son. Her neighbours and relatives heard that the Lord had shown his great mercy to her, and they rejoiced with her. On the eighth day they came to circumcise the child, and they were going to name him Zechariah after his father. But his mother said, “No; he is to be called John.” They said to her, “None of your relatives has this name.” Then they began motioning to his father to find out what name he wanted to give him. He asked for a writing tablet and wrote, “His name is John.” And all of them were amazed. Immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue freed, and he began to speak, praising God. Fear came over all their neighbours, and all these things were talked about throughout the entire hill country of Judea. All who heard them pondered them and said, “What then will this child become?” For, indeed, the hand of the Lord was with him. The child grew and became strong in spirit, and he was in the wilderness until the day he appeared publicly to Israel.

Heralding the kingdom of God

The Greeks call him the Prodromos, the Latins have adapted as Precursor. We might wonder why the birth of Saint John the Baptist is such a big feast-day, in fact a solemnity. The meaning of his name, in Hebrew “Yeho-hanan”, means “the Lord is gracious” and as Luke’s account underlines, in John the Baptist, God had shown great favour, not just to the childless couple, Zechariah and Elizabeth, but to the whole of humanity. Before John the Baptist came on the scene, the prophetic voice in Israel has been silent for 400 years. When the Baptist came into the wilderness near the river Jordan, he breathed fire and preached repentance and renewal. All four Gospels agree that it was he who prepared the way for Jesus the Christ, the Anointed One of God. So the whole Christian traditions honours John the Baptist as the Fore-runner, the one who  ran ahead as herald of the graciousness from God which came through Jesus, filled with grace and truth.

The service John the Baptist gave the people of his time, each of us, in our various ways, should offer for people in our time. We should help people to recognise and receive the graciousness and the favour of God. The name John means  God is gracious or  God shows favour. We too have the significant name of Christian implying that we share in the  anointing or missioning of Jesus. It means that we are to be like other Christs to the world. May we be filled with God’s grace and favour to fulfil our mission as faithfully as John did his.

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