The Nativity of St. John the Baptist

June 22, 2018

The Pastor's Page

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).

About Father Michael Van Sloun

Father Michael A. Van Sloun is the pastor of Saint Bartholomew of Wayzata, MN. Ministerial interests include weekly Bible study, articles on theological topics, religious photography, retreats on Cross spirituality, and pilgrimages to the Holy Land, Italy, Greece and Turkey.

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