- The Abbey of the Genesee - https://www.geneseeabbey.org -

June 24, 2018

Fr. Jerome Machar, OCSO

Solemnity of the Nativity of Saint John the Baptist
Isaiah 49:1-6; Acts 13: 22-26; Luke 1: 57-66, 80

As a rule, the church celebrates the feast of a saint once a year, and that on the anniversary of the saint’s death. In the case of John the Baptist we celebrate both his death and his birth. John is the only saint after Christ whose birth is celebrated with a solemnity. The birth of John the Baptist is closely connected with the mystery of the Incarnation. When the angel appeared to Mary, she humbly accepted his announcement and submitted to God’s will and embraced her roll in in. Zachariah, on the other hand, was confounded by the message announced him and was consequently left speechless. The virginal womb of Mary became the dwelling place of the Word made Flesh. The barren womb of Elizabeth, her cousin, became the dwelling place of the Voice that would cry out in the wilderness, announcing the coming of the Lamb of God. Mary ascended to the heights where the forerunner was to be born. Mary carried within her the light that John would herald at its coming.

Having been informed by the angel that a time of hope and newness of life had come to the barren world, Zachariah had relations with his wife who conceived and brought forth a son. Mary carried in her womb the Light of the World. Elizabeth carried in her womb the Dawn that was to alert the world to the coming of the New Day. To a people wandering in darkness, the Dawn was born to prepare the way for Christ, the Light of the world. John’s birth brought the children of Adam and Eve reason for hope. With a word, God created us, through the Word God redeemed and he left us a word to guide us on the way to the Kingdom.

A few moments ago, we heard the account of the birth of John the Baptist and the great joy experienced by all his family. Luke reported the imparting of John’s name in great detail. We need to remember that the name given him by the angelic messenger was integral to his call: Johanan, a name that means “God is Gracious”. His birth signals the beginning of a new era in the relationship between God and man. The barren land would finally hear the voice of one sent by God. Because of God’s graciousness, the land and its people will become fruitful again. As the voice crying out in the wilderness is born, Zacharias recovers his speech. Doubt closed his mouth. Now his humble submission to the will of God would open it again. Now that he believes, he speaks. God opened his lips and Zacharias proclaimed words praising God for His gracious and loving kindness. At last, the people who walked in darkness would be delivered from their need.

In John we see that God has a purpose for His children before they come into this world. The challenge of life is for each of us to discover this purpose and remain faithful to its demands. God was at work in the past and He is active in the events as they unfold. God who is gracious intends to rescue his people and set them free. The text from the prophet Isaiah recounts how God formed His servant for a monumental mission of restoring the lost and scattered tribes of Israel. This prophetic utterance would find its fulfillment in the person and works of Jesus, and John was to be his forerunner. John proclaimed the nearness of the consolation of Israel. He is the “voice” of the long expected Consoler. Through John, God would prepare Israel to receive its long-awaited Messiah. John’s conception in his barren mother’s womb was an expression of God’s desire to fulfill Israel’s deepest desire for a bountiful future. The child was then led into the barren desert where he would experience the hunger and thirst of God’s people. There, in the wilderness, John made the cry of his people his own and became its voice.

John is the voice, uttering a Word that was not his own, but God’s. He speaks, not about himself, but about another whose way he has come to prepare. The purpose of John’s life was to point to another. In him, God is Gracious and he points out the graciousness of God, made visible in the person of Jesus. Because God is Gracious, John, a man of light, recognized and pointed out the true Light of the World. While John was a man of light, his life was one of pain and darkness. It was out of the darkness that John saw the coming of the new Day and recognized the Morning Star in its rising.

John spoke a word of hope to people who were trapped in darkness. He proclaimed that the day would come when the darkness would be dispelled and the road to the kingdom would be made smooth and clear. Men would no longer have to grope in the darkness but would know for certain that this and none other was God’s plan for them; that this and none other was the path to their dwelling pace with God. They would learn that there was a blessing for them if they were willing to walk in the light of faith.

John found the light of faith by holding fast to God’s will for him. Even as he made the people’s darkness his own, he remained true to his call. He kept his eyes focused on the Lamb of God who would take away the sin. He kept vigil, looking for the Light that would overcome the darkness of the world. Like John, each of us must stop looking at visible reality around us and cling to the unseen and unapproachable light that envelopes us. It is then that we will find the Lord who is the foundation and support of our being. We will know God to the extent that we allow Him to make his dwelling place in us. There, in the silence and solitude of our heart, we will hear the Word. Having heard, may we raise our voices to announce His gracious kindness to others.

As we celebrate the Birth of the Forerunner, let us pray for the grace of hope. Let us be willing to commit our lives to the service of the Living Word. Let us take time to listen to God’s word, and read the signs of the times. In order for us to live out our commitment to our calling, we will need courage. It will also be necessary for us to discipline ourselves so as to keep away from making choices that do not help us along the path that leads to God. Following John’s, example, let us raise our voices to announce the Presence of the Light of Life. Let us be ministers of hope, announcing God’s desire to works in each person’s life, so as to draw all of us to himself and to give us the dignity that is ours as the children of the kingdom.