The Nativity of John the Baptist
Is 49:1-6; Acts 13:22-26; Lk 1:57-66 & 80 (Year B)
“Before John ended his career he said, ‘I am not the one you imagine me to be; that one is coming after me and I am not fit to undo his sandals.’ ”
As we celebrate the birth of John the Baptist we celebrate the one described by Jesus as “the greatest of those born of women”. His greatness lay not so much within himself as in his consuming focus on Jesus as the coming Messiah.
Like many prophets who had gone before, John recognised that life’s ultimate purpose is to give glory to God. “The Lord called me before I was born, from my mother’s womb he pronounced my name. He said to me ‘You are my servant, Israel, in whom I shall be glorified.’ ”
The words of the prophet Isaiah describe perfectly the vision that grounded John the Baptist’s mission, and that must become the path for every true disciple. A loving Father has fashioned us for some definite purpose, and the unfolding of our lives must be to his glory rather than our own.
John was, in many ways, the greatest preacher of his generation. Crowds flocked to hear him and were drawn to his baptism of repentance. Above all, he realised that his gifts came from God, not from himself, and that their efficacy was sustained only in communion with the Lord who had called him into being. “He made my mouth a sharp sword, and hid me in the shadow of his hand. He made me into a sharpened arrow, and concealed me in his quiver.”
People flocked to John not simply because of the eloquence of his words, but also because they recognised in him someone held in the shadow of God’s hand and concealed in the wonder of his presence. Actions alone do not make of us true disciples. Like John, we must consciously rest in the hand of the Lord.
The events surrounding the birth of John the Baptist closely paralleled the Annunciation to Mary and the birth of her son Jesus. Elizabeth had been called by the Lord to bear a child who would bring people to God. Mary had been called to conceive and bear the Son of the most high.
In their different ways Mary and Elizabeth allowed God’s saving will to unfold through their humble attention to him. Jesus, born of Mary, revealed the Father’s love. John, born of Elizabeth, pointed to Jesus as the gift of the Father.
It was for this that John had been called before he was born, named from his mother’s womb, to give glory to God. We likewise are called to give glory to the Father who was with us as we were formed in our mothers’ wombs.
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