The Nativity of St. John the Baptist
Sunday, June 24, 2012
“St. John the Baptist: Born to Forerun” (Luke 1:57-80)
Merry Saintjohnthebaptistmas! “What?” you’re thinking, “What did he say?” I said, Merry Saintjohnthebaptistmas! You heard me right. If we celebrate Christmas, the birth of Christ, on December 25, then six months before that, which is today, we should celebrate the birth of his predecessor, his forerunner, St. John the Baptist. So, Merry Saintjohnthebaptistmas!
Six months out from Christmas. But Christmas is December 25, and today is only June 24, not the 25th. How come we’re celebrating on this day? Well, it’s just a little quirk in the calendar. In the old Roman way of dating things, they would go by how many days an event occurred prior to the first day of the next month. And if you count backwards from July 1, since June has only 30 days, instead of 31, that is how you end up on June 24, and that is why the church celebrates the Nativity of St. John the Baptist on this date. But the point is, it’s six months before Christmas, John was born six months before Jesus, so there you go.
Yes, today is the Nativity of St. John the Baptist. And so our readings today all have to do with the life and ministry of John. And while we do hear about John at other times during the year–especially during the season of Advent, when there are readings about his ministry at the Jordan–the distinctive thing about the readings for the Nativity of St. John is that we hear a text specifically about his birth. That’s the Holy Gospel for today, from Luke 1.
In this Gospel reading, we hear about the birth of John and his circumcision and naming on the eighth day. And then there is a beautiful prophecy that John’s father, Zechariah, speaks on this occasion, a prophecy concerning the great things that this birth is heralding and the role that his son, John, would have in them.
This child, John, would go before the Lord to prepare his way. That was his mission in life. Both his name and this prophecy signal this calling on John’s life. Right from the outset, right from his birth, John’s career path was laid out for him. And that was to be the forerunner of the Lord, to go before him to prepare his way. Thus we can say that St. John the Baptist was “Born to Forerun.”