Solemnity of the Nativity of Saint John the Baptist
(Isaiah 49:1-6; Acts 13:22-26; Lucas 1:56-66.80)
Besides Jesus, who should be named as the three most important figures in the gospels? Many would not hesitate to say Mary, the mother of Jesus. St. Peter would also be a popular choice. But the third place would be up for grabs. Some might nominate St. John, the son of Zebedee and often considered to be the “Beloved Disciple.” A few might argue that Judas was indispensable in setting the stage for the crucifixion. However, John the Baptist is the best choice. His role as forerunner of Jesus makes more influential that even Peter. For this reason the Church celebrates John’s birthday today.
Today’s gospel focuses on John’s naming. His mother insists that he will be called John. Zechariah’s support of his wife’s choice leads to the return of his ability to speak. The name means The Lord has shown favor. John will live up to this omen. Through him the Lord has shown favor to his parents who longed to have a child. Through his ministry of preaching and baptizing many will come to repent of their sins. And finally with his humble recognition that he is not the Messiah, the world will turn to Jesus for salvation.
We celebrate John’s birthday today, approximately the summer solstice (in the Northern Hemisphere) and six months before Christmas. The date fits details of what is reported of the Baptist in the fourth gospel. There Jesus calls him “a burning and shining lamp’ (John 5:35). John himself testifies to Jesus by saying, “He must increase; I must decrease” (John 3:30).