The Nativity of St. John the Baptist
24 June 2018
Isaiah 49, 1-6 + Psalm 139 + Acts 13, 22-26 + Luke 1, 57-66, 80
The shadow of old Sarah and Abraham falls over the story of Elizabeth and Zechariah. Almost like bookends two faithful couples begin and end the story of Israel bearing witness to the power of God’s favor, love, and grace. We should not reflect upon what God does with Zechariah and Elizabeth without recalling how God acted with Sarah and Abraham to begin restoring creation to its glory.
There was an expectation among the Jews that the prophet Elijah would return to earth to prepare God’s chosen people for the coming of the Messiah. Reflecting upon the prophetic witness of John, Jesus declare that John was that Elijah person they were expecting. Like the first Elijah, John was a truth teller. He spoke to the truth to power, which is a sure way to get into trouble when power is a living lie. He disturbed the comfortable and comforted the disturbed. The message of John, whose birth we commemorate today, is as challenging now as it was when his voice cried out in the wilderness. Not everything the powerful do is morally right. Not everything enshrined in the law of the land is right even though it has become the law of the land. Then and now, there are things enshrined in the law by the powerful that are not just or morally right. Abortion, capital punishment, euthanasia, are obvious examples, and there are more. Those things may be lawful, but they are not right, and John would speak up about it.
John the Baptist was a finger pointer, and many artists paint him standing tall and wild looking and pointing his finger at Jesus of Nazareth. In contrast to all of us, John points to Christ. We point too, but usually at one another in a gesture of blame or accusation just as Adam pointed to Eve who pointed to a serpent. We might do well to learn from John something about pointing, because that might be what God wants of us; a people who point the way, who lead others to Jesus Christ by what we say and what we do.
The question asked by the neighbors and relations gathered around as John is born is important. “What will this child turn out to be?” It is a question that could and should be asked of all of us. “What will we turn out to be?” It is another way of wondering what God wants us to be. Is there a divine purpose for our lives? Perhaps it is the same purpose God had for John’s life. Perhaps God would have us speak the truth with courage and speak that truth to power. Perhaps God would also have us point out the Savior and make way for Jesus leading others to him by the example of our lives.
Take note that we celebrate this birth just days after the summer solstice as the daylight now begins to fade and decrease. We will celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ on this night in exactly six months, a few days after the winter solstice when daylight will begin to increase. We are the bearers of that light through the darkness to come and will be the ones to whom others should look when they fear the darkness and long for hope.