Tag Archives: St. John the Baptist

John and Jesus: Remarkable Similarities

June 22, 2018

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St. John the BaptistThe birth of St. John the Baptist features the one who is the precursor, the forerunner, the one who foretold the coming of Jesus, went ahead of him, prepared his way, pointed him out when he came, and proclaimed him to be the Son of God. The birth of John set the stage for the birth of Jesus, and the two of them have much in common.

John and Jesus were relatives. They both had annunciations: the angel Gabriel announced the birth of John to Zechariah; the angel Gabriel announced the birth to Jesus to Mary. They both had holy mothers: Elizabeth was righteous and filled with the Holy Spirit; Mary was full of grace and overshadowed by the Holy Spirit. Both of their births were miraculous: Elizabeth was old, barren, and beyond her childbearing years; Mary was young, a virgin, and before her childbearing years. Elizabeth’s conception was the Lord’s doing; Mary’s conception was by the power of the Holy Spirit. John was not named after his father Zechariah, but given the name provided by the angel; Jesus was not named after his father Joseph, but given the name provided by the angel. Both escaped the massacre of the Holy Innocents: John was hidden in the Rock of Concealment; Jesus and his parents fled to Egypt.

John and Jesus had strong religious upbringings. John had good and holy parents, Elizabeth and Zechariah; Jesus had good and holy parents, Mary and Joseph. Both observed the Sabbath, John in the Temple in Jerusalem, Jesus in the synagogue in Nazareth. Very little is known about their childhoods. John presumably was an understudy of his father Zechariah as a priest in the Temple; Jesus was an understudy of his father Joseph in the carpenter’s shop.

When John and Jesus appeared as adults, neither followed the professions of their fathers. John, instead of being a priest, left Jerusalem to become a desert prophet; Jesus, instead of remaining a carpenter, left Nazareth to become a preacher, teacher, and healer. John foretold the long-awaited Messiah; Jesus was the long-awaited Messiah. John was the baptizer; Jesus was the one baptized. John was a servant of God and a light to the nations; Jesus was a servant of God and a light to the nations.

Both John and Jesus were bold preachers whose tongues were as sharp as a two-edged sword. John proclaimed a baptism of repentance; Jesus told the people to repent and turn away from sin. John chastised King Herod Antipas and Herodias for their adulterous relationship; Jesus chastised the scribes and Pharisees for being hypocrites. The king and queen were furious with John; the religious leaders were furious with Jesus. John was arrested and put in prison; Jesus was apprehended at Gethsemane and held overnight.

John, innocent though he was, was beheaded with a sword; Jesus, innocent though he was, was crucified and his side pierced by a sword. John died a young man at the age of 31 or 32; Jesus died a young man at the age of 33. John died a prophet’s or martyr’s death; Jesus died a savior’s or redeemer’s death. John’s disciples took his body and laid it in a tomb; Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus took Jesus’ body and laid it in a tomb. John was given a place in heaven with the angels and saints; Jesus ascended to heaven where he is surrounded by the angels and saints. The similarities between John and Jesus are remarkable, and if John could live a life that was similar to Jesus in many ways, we are called to pattern our lives on Jesus.

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The Nativity of St. John the Baptist

June 22, 2018

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St. John the BaptistThe birth of St. John the Baptist is one of only three births celebrated on the liturgical calendar. The birth of Jesus is celebrated on December 25; the birth of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the mother of Jesus, is September 8; and the birth of St. John the Baptist, the prophet who announced the arrival of Jesus, the Messiah, is June 24. It ranks as a solemnity.

The birth of St. John the Baptist was a momentous occasion. He was no ordinary child. Jesus said of John, “Amen, I say to you, among those born of women there has been none greater than John the Baptist” (Mt 11:11).

John the Baptist ranks first among the prophets. All of the prophets that went before him announced that the Messiah was coming. The Baptist was blessed with the singular privilege to announce that the Messiah had come. He was the only prophet who pointed to Jesus and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world” (Jn 1:29). He “ranks ahead of me because he existed before me” (Jn 1:30). “He is the Son of God” (Jn 1:34b).

The date for the feast is based on Luke’s Infancy Narrative. At the Annunciation the angel Gabriel told Mary that Elizabeth had conceived and that she was in her sixth month (Lk 1:36), after which Mary visited Elizabeth and “remained with her about three months” (Lk 1:56a), presumably until John was born. June 24 is six months before the birth of Jesus.

St. Augustine saw a connection between June 24 and December 24, John and Jesus, the light, the summer and winter solstices, and their relative importance. Jesus said that John “was a burning and shining lamp, and for a while you were content to rejoice in his light” (Jn 5:35). Later Jesus said of himself, “I am the light of the world” (Jn 8:12). John is the lesser light. Jesus is the greater light. St. Augustine observed that John was born after the summer solstice when light begins to decrease, Jesus was born after the winter solstice when light begins to increase, which correlates to John’s statement, “He must increase and I must decrease” (Jn 3:30).

His birth is commemorated at the Church of St. John the Baptist in Ein Karem, a village in the hill country of Judea about four miles southwest of Jerusalem. The first church was built during the Byzantine Period, rebuilt during the Crusader Period, and then restored in 1885. There is a staircase along the north wall that descends to a lower-level crypt which is the cave traditionally regarded as the place where Elizabeth gave birth to John (Lk 1:57).

The Preface for the Nativity of Saint John the Baptist is a prayer of thanksgiving to God for the blessings of the Precursor’s life. “For you consecrated him for a singular honor among those born among women. His birth brought great rejoicing; even in the womb he leapt for joy at the coming of human salvation. He alone of all the prophets pointed out the Lamb of redemption. And to make holy the flowing waters, he baptized the very author of Baptism and was privileged to bear him supreme witness by the shedding of his blood” (Roman Missal, 732).

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St. John the Baptist prepares our way for Christmas

December 1, 2010

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St. John the Baptist is depicted with an ax at the root of the tree in St. George Serbian Orthodox Church in Duluth.

The Baptist’s featured role in Advent. St. John the Baptist plays a prominent role in the Scripture readings during the Advent season as the church prepares for the celebration of Christmas. He is not mentioned on the first and fourth Sundays of Advent, but he is a major figure on the second and third. While Jesus is always the main focus of the Gospel, during the middle of Advent, St. John the Baptist serves as the main supporting character.

Christ has come, Christ is here, Christ will come again. During Advent, the church reflects on the triple comings of Jesus: his original coming on the first Christmas, his coming today and his final coming either at the end of our lives or at the second coming. John the Baptist is the one who announced his coming. God said, “Lo, I am sending my messenger to prepare the way before me. Lo, I will send you Elijah, the prophet, before the day of the Lord comes” (Malachi 3:1, 23). Jesus explained that Elijah had come in the form of John the Baptist (Matthew 17:12-13). The Baptist is the precursor, the forerunner, the one who goes ahead, the herald’s voice.

A prophet like no other. John the Baptist is the intertestamental prophet, the prophet who bridges the Old and New Testaments. There are many great prophets in the Hebrew Scriptures, prophets like Elijah and Isaiah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel, but Jesus said, “There has been none greater than John the Baptist” (Matthew 11:11). The Baptist is the greatest of the prophets for a reason. The prophets of long ago did remote preparation; the Baptist did immediate preparation. The earlier prophets announced that the Messiah was coming; the Baptist announced that the Messiah was here. When Jesus did appear, the Baptist pointed to him and identified him as such, “Behold, the Lamb of God” (John 1:29, 36).

A prophetic appearance. John the Baptist had a striking appearance. He wore clothing made of camel’s hair and had a leather belt around his waist (Matthew 3:4). His unusual garb links him directly to Elijah, the only Old Testament prophet to dress in this way (2 Kings 1:8).

A prophetic message. The theme of the Baptist’s preaching was, “Reform your lives!” He challenged his  listeners to straighten out the crooked parts of their  lives, to tear down the mountains of their evil doing, and to fill in the valleys of their shortcomings. He warned them: “Even now the ax lies at the root of the trees” (Matthew 3:10), a powerful metaphor in which the tree represents the unproductive sinner and the ax represents impending judgment. Now is the time to produce good works. Act swiftly to avoid being cut down and thrown into the fire. The Baptist urged the people to confess their sins and receive a baptism of repentance. The way to prepare for the coming of the Lord is to stop sinning and live a more virtuous life.

A prophetic attitude. The Baptist avoided a great temptation. The voice of prophecy in Israel had been silent for hundreds of years, and the people went in droves out to the desert to hear him. With such a surge in popularity, he could have reveled in all of the attention, but he resisted the natural inclination to let the focus be on him. The Baptist humbly redirected the peoples’ attention from himself to Jesus:  “The one who is coming after me is mightier than I” (Matthew 3:11); “I am not fit to loosen his sandal strap” (Luke 3:16); “I am not the Messiah” (John 1:20); and “He [Jesus] must increase; I must decrease” (John 3:30).

A message ever-old and ever-new. The Baptist’s prophetic message is applicable to our spiritual preparation for Christmas. Advent is a time to prepare the way of the Lord, to clear away every obstacle that would prevent Jesus from coming to us, so that when Jesus comes to us today and on Christmas, he will have unimpeded access to our hearts. The Baptist wanted his listeners to renounce sin, be washed of their past impurities, and be in the state of grace when Jesus appeared. Likewise, if we wish to be well-prepared for the solemn feast of Christmas, we would be wise to renounce our own sins, to confess them in the sacrament of reconciliation, to be washed of our impurities through sacramental absolution, to do good works, and to be in the state of grace when Jesus comes today, on Christmas and our last day. Let us humbly keep Jesus as the main focus of Advent, Christmas and every day of our lives.

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