June 24, 2020

Solemnity of the Nativity of St. John the Baptist

(Wednesday of the Twelfth Week of Ordinary Time)


First Reading: Isaiah 49:1-6

Responsorial: Psalm 139:1B-3, 13-14AB, 14C-15

Second Reading: Acts 13:22-26

Alleluia: Cf. Luke 1:76

Gospel: Luke 1:57-66, 80


            The liturgical celebration of the Nativity of John the Baptist takes places 6 months before the Nativity of Christ, which begins properly on the evening of December 24 with the Christmas Vigil. Both of these dates are just shortly after the respective winter and summer solstices marking the shortest and longest days of the year. Thus, Jesus comes into the world after the three shortest (i.e. darkest) days, reflecting that he is the light of the world – the days becomes progressively longer for the next 6 months. (The three darkest days from December 21 to 24 culminate Advent and are said to reflect the darkness of Christ’s three days in the tomb in order to draw a connection between the Nativity and the Resurrection.)


            Thus, the Nativity of John the Baptist taking place 6 months after the celebration of Christmas has a two-fold significance. First, because it caps the three longest (i.e. brightest) days of the year, it points to the luminous stature of the Baptist. As Christ said, “I tell you, among those born of women, no one is greater than John.” We recognize John the Baptist as one enlightened by Christ, thus he stands as a perennial example to Christians of what it means to follow Jesus. But secondly, the fact that the days following the celebration of John’s Nativity on June 24 become progressively shorter gives liturgical expression to John’s own words about Christ, “He must increase; I must decrease.”


            One of the most remarkable aspects of John the Baptist is that he deflected all glory from himself towards Christ, comparing himself to the best man for the true bridgegroom, Jesus. Thus he said: “I am not the Messiah, but that I was sent before him. The one who has the bride is the bridegroom; the best man, who stands and listens to him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice. So this joy of mine has been made complete.” Similarly, elsewhere John proclaims to those who herald him as the Messiah: “What do you suppose that I am? I am not he. Behold, one is coming after me; I am not worthy to unfasten the sandals of his feet.”


            John’s Christocentricity (Christ-centeredness) is an important model for us in this life. There is always a tendency to make the faith about something else – politics, morality, social issues, aesthetics, psychology, volunteerism, culture, etc. These things all have their place in the fullness of the Christian faith, but none of them are the faith themselves. Rather, the focus must always be on the salvation wrought by Christ Jesus and the imitation of him. Devotion to the Saints (of which, sadly, John the Baptist receives far too little a share in our modern faith, giving him the moniker “the forgotten man of the Bible”) is important, but must always be seen in the context of pointing us towards Jesus himself.


            We live in a day and age when people readily lose sight of context and proportion. A desire to right the wrongs of the past often leads to an attack on all things of the past. That injustice exists in the laws is seen as a justification for lawlessness. That persons are imperfect leads many to think that only the forceful imposition of ideology and rigid control (whether political, economic, and social) can improve on the status quo.


            For Christians, John the Baptist provides context and proportion. It’s not easy to admit that we are not the center of things or that our pet issues are not necessarily the most urgent question of all time. It’s not easy to admit that we are perhaps only a smaller player in some larger arena. It’s not easy to subordinate ourselves by admitting that someone else (i.e. Jesus) is greater and holds the true key to salvation.


            This is the message that we can all learn in reflecting on the life and ministry of John the Baptist. Through him we see Christ more clearly; or as our Blessed Mother said of herself (and by extension all the Saints) “his soul magnifies the Lord.” In our own lives, we would do well to simply ask ourselves in every circumstance, “In this, does my soul magnify Jesus?”