Mission Society of the Philippines



Lk 1: 57-66, 80

ST JOHN THE BAPTIST is someone special because he was a cousin and precursor of Jesus. He has a special place in the liturgy, both his birth and death are being celebrated as feasts in the Church. The nativity of John is one of the oldest feasts in the calendar of the Church. In the early days of the Church, there is always a reference to John when one speaks of Christ. The lives of the two cousins were woven together. John was born six months before Christ’s birth, of aged parents, Zechariah and Elizabeth.

The gospel that we have heard is an account of the birth of John the Baptist.  Let us reflect on some important points that we find in the gospel passage:

Firstly, we have heard of the reaction of the neighbors and relatives upon hearing that Elizabeth gave birth to a boy. Their reaction was one of joy. The gospel text says that “they rejoiced with her”. This could be a universal feeling or reaction. There is joy of giving birth, and there is joy also of welcoming a newly-born child into the human family. It is our common reaction that whenever we hear a neighbor or a friend giving birth to a child, we would always go and visit the proud parents to congratulate them.

However, nowadays, giving birth to children somehow does not anymore come out naturally, but often, is dependent on the couple’s plan. For example, a newly wedded couple told me, “Father, we have already planned out to have a baby after five years”. The expectation to have an immediate baby is being stalled. And worse, there are some couples who find child bearing and rearing as a burden. Consequently, some couples would prefer to raise dogs or cats at home, other than raising a child.

The birth of John the Baptist is a constant reminder for us that a child is a ‘gift’ from God. Zechariah and Elizabeth were already old, and yet they were blessed by God; they were gifted with a child. Thus, a child is God’s gift, and we should always find joy in this gift. The future of the human family depends on what attitude or value we have toward children. The presence of children in a community gives also life. One writer has said, “If you hear children playing, laughing, arguing and crying, that place is full of life”. This is true in poorer countries where children abound.

Secondly, while the neighbors and relatives rejoiced for the child’s birth, they were also ‘meddlers’ when it comes to naming the child. They wanted to name the newly born child Zechariah Jr. But the parents did not accede to it. They insisted of naming their child as John; and that name has a meaning. The name John means “God is gracious”. Through the child’s name, Zechariah and Elizabeth wanted to show and tell the world about the graciousness of God toward them. John would become the living testament to God’s graciousness toward them.

Thus, the name of the child matters. Children born in a Christian community deserve also a Christian name. The parents, as well as the child, should find meaning in the name. In the final analysis, the person’s name is his or her identity.

Thirdly, we may ask a question, “What is the significance of the birth of John the Baptist?” Ordinarily a saint’s (date of) death is celebrated by the Church as his feast, because that day marks his entrance into heaven. But we have exceptions to the rule: Blessed Virgin Mary and St. John the Baptist. The Church celebrates also the birth of the Virgin Mary and of St John the Baptist.

The birth of the Virgin Mary is very special because she was immaculately conceived, and her role in the history of salvation is special. However, the birth of St John the Baptist is also special because it has a link to the birth of Jesus. John is the precursor of Jesus. June 24 was chosen as the date because it was believed that John was born six months before the birth of Jesus (December 24). John was the forerunner of the Messiah, and as such, he was a step ahead of Jesus’ ministry.  John was born first, began his public ministry first, and died a martyr’s death first. And Jesus praised John the Baptist highly by saying, “Truly I tell you, among those born of women no one has arisen greater than John the Baptist.”

Finally, Jesus describes John as “burning and shining lamp” (Jn 5:35). John’s light reminds also of the light that we received when we were baptized. We shall allow the Light, who is Christ to burn and to shine, wherever we are. AMEN.

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