The Nativity of Saint John the Baptist
Isaiah 49:1-6; Acts 13:22-26; Luke 1:57-66, 80
I want to begin today with some interesting parallels involving John the Baptist and Jesus Christ. Both the birth of Jesus Christ and the birth of John the Baptist were surrounded by angels. Each of their births were mysterious; each accompanied by special acts of God.
John the Baptist and his cousin Jesus had God-given names announced by God’s angels. They were not given their names by their families.
June 24th is exactly six months apart from December 24th/25th. John the Baptists’ birth was at the summer solstice; Christ’s birth at the winter solstice. John’s birth was when daylight begins to give way to the darkness of night; Jesus’birth was when the daylight begins to overcome the darkness.
John the Baptist’s birth can be seen as a “little Christmas.” His life announces the coming of the Messiah, moreover he was given the privilege of announcing that the Messiah has in fact arrived. “Behold the lamb of God,” he will later cry out; “Behold him who takes away the sin of the world.” In St. Luke’s gospel we hear Jesus saying: What then did you go out to see? A man clothed in soft clothing? Behold, those who are gorgeously appareled and live in luxury are in kings' courts. What then did you go out to see? Jesus, in speaking about John, asked His listeners what they saw in John: “A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. This is he of whom it is written, 'Behold, I send my messenger before thy face, who shall prepare thy way before thee.' I tell you, among those born of women none is greater than John…” (Luke 7:25ff)
Jesus and John were both unexpectedly conceived in their mothers’ wombs. They were not conceived and born in the normal ways we would ordinarily expect. According to the Gospel of Luke, Elizabeth was a descendant of Aaron the high priest. She and her husband Zacharias were "righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless" (1:6), but childless. While ministering in the temple of the Lord, Zacharias was visited by the angel Gabriel. And the angel said to him: Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer is heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John. And you will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth; for he will be great before the Lord, and he shall drink no wine or strong drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother's womb. Zacharias doubted "whereby" he could know this since both he and his wife were very old. The angel identified himself as Gabriel and told him because he did not believe he would be "dumb, and not able to speak" until the angel’s words were fulfilled, When John was born and given his name, Zacharias was able to speak once again.
The most strikingly important thing we should bear in mind about John the Baptist is that he is the premier evangelizer, the first to announce the presence of Jesus Christ in our world. He is the model for us all in pointing out the tremendously good news that God is present among us. Could there be any better news than that? Is there any good news that is greater than that good news? No other religion brings us that news. No other religion holds that God became one of us.
The Latin word for good news is evangelium. It is derived from a Greek word which is translated as "gospel," or "glad tidings." In recent years our Church has urged us to be a part of the “New Evangelization,” to be active in sharing God’s good news with folks around us.
So allow me today to challenge you. Invite someone you know to come back to church. Evangelization can focus on the conversion of the nations, or on the conversion of those who are not Christians, but it can also focus much more narrowly on the re-activizing of inactive Catholics. Everyone here knows someone—a friend, a co-worker, a family member, perhaps even a godson or goddaughter—who has stopped attending Mass or availing himself or herself of the sacraments. Resolve to send such a person a note, or give him or her a phone call, or sit down for a good conversation and urge him or her to come back home to church. You may feel timid about doing this; it might prove a bit uncomfortable or embarrassing. Evangelization is always a risk. But for the sake of that person’s spiritual health, take the risk.
In dealing with religion and particularly with Christianity, one of the big questions that is asked is: “Where is Jesus Christ?” Where can I encounter Him? Different Christian churches have different answers. As Catholics we answer that fundamental question by noting that Christ is present to us in Word and in Sacrament. Certainly Holy Scriptures can connect us to Christ. But as Catholics we are equally certain that His is present to us in Holy Communion and in all of our Church’s Sacraments. The Sacraments are not simply religious rituals. They are the acts of Jesus Christ working through His presence within His Mystical Body, the Church. Jesus Christ is, after all, exactly where He said He would be.
The Church exists to bring us to Christ and to bring Christ to us. But where do we meet Him? The Protestant answer is that we meet Him primarily in Scripture. The Catholic answer is that we meet Him and He comes to us not only in Scripture but primarily in the Eucharist. Catholic evangelism should focus on this, God’s most wondrous gift to us.
Some have claimed that the Catholic Church is not bible based, that Catholics do not place as much importance as they should in Sacred Scriptures. That accusation is not at all true. Every Mass is loaded with passages from Sacred Scripture. Many parishes have bible study groups. Sacred Scripture is more than just literature. Scripture is the Word of God and carries within it the power of God Holy Spirit. So do the Sacraments. We pay a lot of attention to Sacred Scriptures and to the Sacraments.
Increase your own knowledge of the lives of the saints. Speak of the holy people you know of who are Catholics and the power of their faith. Increase your knowledge of what the Catholic Church holds to be of great importance. Speak to them of the Eucharist.
Don’t be afraid to pray in public. Pray grace as you begin a meal. Tell others that you will pray for them. Invite others to come to Mass with you. Always be inviting, never intimidating or aggressive. To evangelize others we must be active, not passive.
Never forget the power of your example. Always be kind. Always be considerate. Always be forgiving. Treat others the way Jesus would treat them.
If someone asks you a question that you can’t answer tell them you will find the answer and then be sure to contact them and share the answer you have found.
Finally, always be Christ centered. The central reality of our Faith is the stupendous truth that Jesus Christ rose from the dead and then promised to be with us always in His Church and in His Sacraments. He is acting on us in each one of the seven Sacraments.
Jesus Christ is not dead and gone. He is alive and well. He is alive and well in the Sacraments of the Church and in the power of the Holy Spirit dwelling within you. That’s very good news. Do not be timid in sharing that news!