Raised up to Proclaim the Presence of the Lord
Today’s feast day is called the Birth of John the Baptist. It is actually the top order of feasts in the Church, a solemnity, and as such, when it comes on a Sunday it replaces the celebration of the Sunday of Ordinary time.
Today is June 24th. The Church places the feast of the Birth of John the Baptist on the 24th for a particular reason. We just celebrated the summer solstice last Thursday, correct? That means that from now on there will be a shorter period of daylight every day. Christmas, the Birth of Jesus, is celebrated on December 25th, a few days after the winter solstice. From Christmas on the days are longer in daylight. John, like the daylight on the day we celebrate his birth, must decrease, while Jesus, like the daylight of the time we celebrate his birth, must increase.
We learn about the birth of John the Baptist in the Gospel of Luke, the same Gospel that gives us the greatest detail of the events leading to Jesus’ birth. The Gospel of Luke begins in the Holy of Holies of the Temple of Jerusalem with an angel, Gabriel, announcing to the priest Zechariah that Elizabeth, his wife, was going to have a child who will be a prophet of God in spirit of the great prophet Elijah. Zechariah questions the angel and is struck mute for his insolence. He does not speak again until after the child’s birth when he names the child John, as he was told to do by the angel.
Meanwhile, in stark contrast to the splendor of Jerusalem, or the importance of the man Zechariah chosen to enter the Holy of Holies, the angel Gabriel appears of a seemingly insignificant young girl named Mary. Mary agrees to allowing God to work his wonders through her and is overshadowed by the Holy Spirit. She travels to assist Elizabeth, a young pregnant girl sharing her joy with an older pregnant lady. At the presence of Jesus within Mary, John stirs in his mother’s womb.
We can justly surmise that John was born in an upscale home with great celebration, parties, etc. Again, in stark contrast, Jesus is born in a stable without Mary’s family and friends in attendance. But regardless of his background, it is John who must humble himself before Jesus. John becomes the voice in the desert preparing for Jesus and pointing out the Lord, the Lamb of God.
The Gospel of Luke is fascinated with the way in which God raises up the lowly. A humble young girl becomes the Mother of the Son of God. Jesus, known as the carpenter’s son, becomes the one to whom the great prophet John points. John, the son of the priest Zechariah, demonstrates his greatness in his humility. He proclaims the presence of the Lord, and then, he must decrease so the Lord might increase.
We also are called to be a voice proclaiming the presence of the Lord in the world. At the same time, we cannot allow our own pride to cloud the message of Jesus coming. We are called to be a voice proclaiming the presence of Jesus in a world that has little use for a Savior. We live in a materialistic society that is convinced it can buy happiness. We live in a busy society that is convinced that success is dependent on the number of things that are accomplished in a given day. We live in a depressed society that hides its meaningless existence behind the clutter of noise. Noise, things to do, things to buy all become ends rather than means. Many people live as though they don’t need Jesus, but at the same time they recognize that they can’t find happiness.
We are called to convince people that they are looking in the wrong places for happiness. Happiness is a gift of God. It cannot be purchased. Nor can our desire for happiness be hidden in meaningless noise. We are called to point to Jesus as the source of fulfilment in life, as the one whose life can fill us with a joy for living.
At the same time, we are called to point to Jesus, not to ourselves. People who hold themselves up before others as examples of how others should live their Christianity are more concerned with others noticing them than they are that others recognize Jesus Christ. It is easy for us all to fall into this trap. We allow our pride to convince us that we have climbed a spiritual mountain and then we are convinced that others can benefit from experiencing our holiness. We do not have the right to deflect the attention that belongs to the Lord over to ourselves. Furthermore, we are flirting with disaster if we become so puffed up in ourselves that we look down on others.
John the Baptist knew who he was and what his position was in the world. He was just a voice, a voice in the desert pointing out the way of the Lord. He never got bogged down in the status of his birth. He never expected people to look at him and find a dedicated servant of God. He only pointed to Jesus and then recognized that he must decrease so others can appreciate the presence of the Lord in the world.
Through the intercession of St. John the Baptist may we have the humility to point only to the Lord and never to ourselves. And may we have the courage to point out the Lord to a world that seeks escape from its doldrums.