The Nativity of Saint John the Baptist
Today the Church celebrates the Nativity of John the Baptist. Normally this would be celebrated on the 24th, but that conflicts with the celebration of the Sacred Heart of Jesus this year. So, our Scripture readings for today focus on John the Baptist. When we read the circumstances around the Baptist’s birth, it is quite remarkable. His father, Zechariah, when informed by the angel Gabriel that he and his wife Elizabeth were going to have a child in their old age, was rather dubious, and he was then struck mute until the child would be circumcised. His mother, Elizabeth, was thought to be incapable of having a child, but as the angel said to Mary at the Annunciation, “Nothing will be impossible for God.” (Luke 1:37).
When the time for circumcision comes, the family expects that the baby will be named after Zechariah, but Elizabeth tells them that he will be named John. When they ask Zechariah, he writes down that his name would be John, and then he is no longer mute, and praises God! When the people see all this, they ask one another, “What, then, will this child be?” Because, as Luke writes, “surely the hand of the Lord was with him.”
For most of us, our births were not accompanied with such remarkable events. But we can say, that, just as it was with the Baptist, the “hand of the Lord” is with us. Sometimes it doesn’t feel that way. We can feel like Isaiah in our first reading, who felt “… I thought I had toiled in vain, and for nothing, uselessly spent my strength…” I wonder if John himself felt like that when he was in prison. But even in those times, God is with us, and Isaiah realizes this: “yet my reward is with the Lord, my recompense is with my God.”
John testified to the truth about Jesus, and was eventually martyred. But his reward is with the Lord. Like John, we are called to testify to the truth about God’s love in Jesus Christ. We may not be martyred, but we will probably be called to make sacrifices to bear witness to God’s overwhelming love for the world in Jesus Christ. May we put our trust in God, even in difficult times, and find our reward in His love.
Fr. Phil Paxton, C.P., is the local superior of the Passionist Community in Birmingham, Alabama.