The Solemnity of the Nativity of St. John the Baptist “The Tale of Three Nativities” PDF Version
The Solemnity of the Nativity of St John the Baptist (2018)
When we celebrate the feast day of one of the saints, this celebration will take place on the day on which the saint passed away. In Latin, this day is known as the dies natalis, or the day of birth. While the saint on that day breathed their last and brought an end of their time of earth, this day is also understood as a day of birth, as they were faithful to God throughout their life and are now ready for new life and spiritual rebirth in the Kingdom of Heaven.
Interestingly, the earthly birthdays of saints are not given any special mention or celebration. But there are three exceptions throughout the liturgical year when a nativity or birthday is celebrated with great joy and solemnity. The first and most important is the Nativity of Jesus Christ, the great feast of Christmas. The second most important celebration is what takes place today on June 24th, the Nativity of St John the Baptist, occurring 6 months prior to Christmas and a day to celebrate when the cousin to Our Lord and greatest of the prophets was born to a couple who were thought to be unable to have children. Finally, on September 8th, we celebrate the feast of the Nativity of Mary, the Mother of God and spiritual mother of all Christians.
On the day of his birth, people rightly asked “what then will this child become?” An air of expectation and wonder surrounded the son of a temple priest and his wife who had patiently hoped for a child. Would he grow up to serve in the temple like his father? Would he join the ranks of Jewish freedom fighters that were battling the power of Rome to liberate their people? Would he become a prophet with the same spirit and fervor that filled the hearts of Elijah, Jeremiah and the beloved sages of old? Or could he just maybe be the long awaited Messiah, the saviour who many were certain had come into the world and in time would bring about the salvation that had been longed from since the tragedy that unfolded in Eden so very long ago.
The birth of a child is always surrounded with an air of mystery and wonder as people ponder what this child will become and how the hand of the Lord will guide them. So too people rightly wondered what would become of John the son of Zechariah. But we must remember that the reason we celebrate today’s solemnity of the nativity of St John the Baptist is not first and foremost to give glory to this great saint but rather to give greater glory and praise to Our Lord Jesus Christ. The birth of the Baptist is given special importance because of its relation to the birth of Christ. In fact, the entire life, mission and martyrdom of St John the Baptist must be viewed from the perspective of how he seeks to prepare the way of the Lord.
If one scripture verse could sum up the glory of the Baptist, it is when he told others that he was not the Messiah and that he “must decrease while Christ must increase.” St John desired with all his being to live in the shadow of Christ, to diminish and direct any praise and attention to the one who was both His creator and His cousin. The Baptist offers us a valuable lesson in humility in a culture that can be very narcissistic and self-centered.
We live in a culture that spends much of time and energy wanting to make ourselves be noticed, be it via social media, television or other forms of communication.
There is a temptation to make ourselves the centre of attention in the midst of conversations or social interactions or we simply live our lives dominated by thinking first and foremost of our own well being and need for affirmation and praise. Many find the words of St John the Baptist to be very appealing, that yes we should decrease so Christ can increase in our lives and throughout the world, but then we become weary to practice what we preach, because it can be very difficult to decrease and we might even be jealous that Our Lord receives more love and attention from others that we would want to have directed to ourselves.
It is for these reasons that it we should take the time be get to know St. John the Baptist and turn to his intercession to help us live with a similar humility that marked his person from the first moment he was conceived in his mother’s womb. He will not fail to lead us closer to Christ but will also profoundly challenge us to live like him!
What is also important about today’s solemnity is that the birth of St. John the Baptist, along with the celebrations of the births of Jesus and Mary, also inspire us to consider how we will pass away from this life. It is telling that we also celebrate the deaths of Jesus, Mary and the Baptist with great solemnity at various points in the liturgical year.
Every year on Good Friday we remember the day that the Our Lord showed us that there is no greater love than to lay down your life for your friends. St. John the Baptist was one who would imitate this call of our Lord to give his life for the good of others.
On August 29th, we celebrate the day St. John the Baptist was beheaded by King Herod. In dying a martyr’s death, the Baptist showed us that the day of his birth was one that was preparing him to die like his cousin, to give his life for others, in St John’s case as a witness to the truth that comes from God in courageously calling his king to end his life of sin, and in doing so showing us the love and concern he had for the eternal salvation of his king, corrupt and evil as he was.
St John’s death also has a connection to the eventual passing of his Aunt, one Mary of Nazareth. Though St. John ended his days in the darkness of a dungeon cell, his martyrdom showed that his eyes were set on the kingdom that is to come, a kingdom of peace and light, a kingdom where he would know the joy of the Resurrection that his cousin had undertaken and promised to all who believed Him to be the Way, the Truth and the Life.
Our Lady already experiences the resurrection. The day she fell asleep and was assumed Body and Soul into heaven was the day that we were given greater hope that persevering in the Christian life is not a waste of one’s time and effort, but the path to eternal life.
St John the Baptist will one day rise again, and like Holy Mary will know the fullness of eternal life. May we once again turn to the Baptist and Our Blessed Mother to help us keep this hope alive in our hearts and never tire in our journey to eternal life.