24 June 2019. Nativity of St. John the Baptist

1st Reading: 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.”

Resp. Psalm: Ps 139

R.: I praise you, for I am wonderfully made

O Lord, you search me and you know me,
you know my resting and my rising,
you discern my purpose from afar.
You mark when I walk or lie down,
all my ways lie open to you. (R./)
For it was you who created my being,
knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I thank you for the wonder of my being,
for the wonders of all your creation. (R./)
Already you knew my soul,
my body held no secret from you,
when I was being fashioned in secret
and moulded in the depths of the earth. (R./)

2nd Reading: 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 desert until the day he appeared publicly to Israel.


Heralding the kingdom of God

Some might wonder why the birth of John the Baptist is such a big feast-day, and why it is celebrated on this date in June. The date for the feast is quite easy to explain. Just three months ago, on March 25th, we celebrated the feast of the Annunciation, when Mary, our Blessed Lady, conceived the child Jesus in response to the word of God. On that same day she heard about the pregnancy of Elizabeth, and quickly set out to visit, so as to be of help to her elderly cousin at that special time. Having stayed for about three months in the house of Elizabeth and Zechariah, that is, until John was safely born, Mary returned to her own home in Nazareth.
There is an apt comparison of John’s birth with that of Jesus in this text from St. Augustine:

“John forms a kind of boundary between the two Testaments, the Old and the New. That he is somehow or other a boundary is something that the Lord himself indicates when he says, The Law and the prophets were until John. So he represents the old and heralds the new. Because he represents the old, he is born of an elderly couple; because he represents the new, he is revealed as a prophet in his mother’s womb. You will remember that, before he was born, at Mary’s arrival he leapt in his mother’s womb. Already he had been marked out there, designated before he was born; it was already shown whose forerunner he would be, even before he saw him. These are divine matters, and exceed the measure of human frailty. Finally, he is born, he receives a name, and his father’s tongue is loosed.
Zachary is struck dumb and loses his voice, until John, the Lord’s forerunner, is born and restores his voice for him. What does Zachary’s silence mean? Perhaps it symbolises that all the Old Testament prophecies were somehow concealed and shut up, before the proclamation of Christ. They were opened up by his arrival, the coming of the long-awaited One. The restoring of Zachary’s voice at the birth of John has the same significance as the tearing the Temple veil at the crucifixion of Christ. If John were meant to proclaim himself, he would not be opening Zachary’s mouth. The tongue is released because a voice is being born — for when John was already heralding the Lord, he was asked, Who are you and he replied I am the voice of one crying in the desert. John is the voice, but the Lord in the beginning was the Word. John is a voice for a time, but Christ is the eternal Word from the beginning..”

As the Baptist became a guide for his people, each of us in quiet ways can offer guidance to people in our time. We can try to find ways to tell our neighbours what God has meant to us. The name John means God is gracious or God shows favour. We too have a significant name, for being Christians implies that we sharing in the mission of Jesus. It means that we are to be like other Christs to the world. May we be blessed with the grace of God, to fulfil our mission in life as faithfully as John did.

John and the Summer Solstice

John the Baptist is the only saint, after Jesus and Mary, and the apostles Peter and Paul, who is celebrated twice in the year (his birth on June 24, and his martyrdom on August 29). We have his birthday on June 24th, six months before celebrating the birth of Jesus. The birthday of John the Baptist is celebrated just after the summer solstice. This is symbolic, for as the light of the sun begins to decrease after reaching its peak, we celebrate today the birth of the one who said of Jesus, “He must increase, but I must decrease.”
This question was asked by the neighbours and relations : “What will this child turn out to be?” could be asked of any of us. It is a question that could be asked about any of us at any stage of our lives, “What will we turn out to be?,” or to put the question in terms of religious faith, “What does God want us to be”? “Is there a divine purpose for our lives?” The purpose of John’s life and God’s purposes for all of us have much in common. Our Maker wants all of us to do what John did, to point out the Saviour, to make way for Jesus, to lead others to him by what we say and do. John the Baptist, whose birth we now celebrate, has something to teach us about how to follow our God-given calling. He was a man of quiet, the desert, and a man of prayer. We all need to find our own desert place of prayer if we are to remain true to our calling to lead others to the Lord, if we are to turn out as God wants us to.
The joy of John’s birthday is connected to the meaning of his name in Hebrew. Yeho-hanan, means “the Lord is gracious” and as St Luke writes, in sending John the Baptist God had shown great favour, not just to the childless Zechariah and Elizabeth, but to the whole of humanity. Before the Baptist came on the scene, the prophetic voice in Israel has been silent for 400 years. When John came into the desert 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 precursor, the one who ran ahead as herald of the graciousness from God which came through Jesus, filled with grace and truth.

Machtnamh: Áthas ar lá breithe Eoin Bhaiste

Tá dlúth-cheangailt idir ciall ainm Eoin Baiste agus ard-athas a lá breithe. Tá lúcháir lá breithe naoimh Eoin (Joannes) ceangailte le brí a ainm san Eabhrais. Ciallaíonn “Yeho-hanan,” “tá an Tiarna caoin” agus mar a léiríonn cuntas Lúcás, trí Eoin Bhaiste, taispeáin Dia a ghrá, ní hamháin don lánúin gan leanbh, don sagart Zechariah agus a bhean-chéile Eilís, ach leis an chine daonna ar fad. Mar a léirigh an baiste (san abhainn) an bealach ceart dá mhuintir féin, is féidir le gach duine againn freastail céanna a dhéanamh ar bhealaí ciúin do dhaoine eile inár saol. Is féidir linn cabhrú lenár gcomharsana tré comhairle a thabhairt dár muintear faoi lachas agus gean an Tiarna. Ciallaíonn an t-ainm Eoin go bhfuil Dia ghrámhar agusd caoin. Tá ainm suntasach againn freisin, toisg gur críostaithe sinn. Ciallaíonn sé go bhfuil muid pairteach le Críost, agus rannpháirteach i misean Íosa. Go mbeannaí Dia sinn le na grásta ionus gur féidir linn a bheith beannaithe le grásta Dé. Go dtuga Dia go mbeimid aontaithe le Dia, chun ár misean a chomhlíonadh chomh maith agus a rinne Eoin féin a chuid.

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