Birth of John the Baptist
We are in the days of the summer solstice. Today we celebrate the Birth of Saint John the Baptist. The Church Christianized the summer solstice as it did the winter solstice, making it Christmas. Six months from today is Christmas. The Solemnity of the Birth of John the Baptist is the forerunner of the Solemnity of Christ’s birth, Christmas Eve. John is the great light who prepares the way of the Lord, who now begins to diminish just as the days begin to grow shorter. Did he not say, “I must decrease? He must increase.” St. John’s feast anticipates the greatest blaze of light that is Christmas. John reflects and radiates the Light of Christ. The point is: so do we.
God’s life shone so brightly in John that he was a light to the world. The people in Ireland have a great tradition on what they call St. John’s Night, the vigil of the Nativity of John the Baptist. As the days grow shorter, they light great bonfires, representing, the light that John was, asserting light against darkness, just as we do in the dark days of December with our Christmas lights. He called people to repent of sin and convert to virtue. He threw light on the path forward.
John was a challenge to the world of his time — and he is to ours, to keep us focused on what is important in life. Like John, we can be filled with God if we turn away from what distracts us from God, from what the world tells us is important and when we choose the happiness God wants for us. The point is: God wants each person to be happy in a life with him, but the particular way that this is expressed is different for each person: “butchers, bakers and candle stick makers.”
We learn from John the Baptist that we can point others to God in a way that only we can do in our particular state of life. The name John means “God is gracious.” If we are following our unique call, God will be gracious to us as well-and we will be gracious to others. John the Baptist stands as a sign of the unique vocation that each of has before God. Each of us is called from the womb. Each of us is called by baptism. God calls us to be, like John the Baptist, an irrepeatable sign of Christ for others. Pope Francis says each of us is a “mission,” sent to the world: so that others may see Christ in us and want to have what we have.
John the Baptist remind us that we are called to walk in the light of Christ and reflect that light to others. We can point the way to Christ, as John did. John’s uniqueness was that he was the baptizer. That has almost become his last name. The point is we each have our unique mission, too, and God will help us fulfill it because, as John’s name reminds us, “God is gracious.”