Is 49:1-6; Ps 139:1b-3,13-14ab,14c-15; Acts 13:22-26; Lk 1:57-66, 80
Our psalm today is a prayerful connection for each of us to the birth we celebrate in this solemnity of the nativity of Saint John the Baptist. Throughout the whole world, those born from above in water and the Holy Spirit, gather to rejoice in the birth of the greatest prophet born of a woman. With the words of the responsorial psalm we, too, rejoice that the Father has formed us in the depths of the earth. Our jubilation at the birth of Saint John the Baptist echoes the joy of Psalm 139. We praise the LORD who has wonderfully made us, each one unique and blessed even before we knew it. We continue to be probed, searched, and known when sitting or standing. The LORD knows and understands our thoughts from afar. Whether we walk or lie down, the LORD scrutinizes us, with all our ways he is familiar. This kind of intimacy the LORD has sought with us from the very beginning, while he was still forming us in our mother’s womb. For this kind of attention, long before we could consciously respond, we rejoice. Indeed, our Father loves us and wants to fill us with every good gift more than he wants to use us. Until we are saturated with his blessing, we can’t even begin to serve him faithfully. In awe and wonder we delight in the LORD of heaven and earth taking notice of us and caring for us. He cannot love us more, and he will not love us less. He loves us without hesitation and without regret. He loves us like he loved Saint John the Baptist, while we were being made in secret and fashioned by him in the depths of the earth. Such knowledge is too wonderful for us to high for us to reach. We praise the LORD for we are wonderfully made and even more wonderfully remade in the Holy Spirit, by the grace of baptism. Indeed, we share within us the very divine life and we participate in the very life of the Eternal Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
Through our baptism we also share in the person and mission of the Lord Jesus, who is priest, prophet and king. We reflect upon this participation in the prophetic identity of Christ through the words of the prophet Isaiah. In this text with which Saint John was familiar and which the Lord Jesus prayed in his human formation, we come to know something of the mystery of our own prophetic ministry. Indeed, from the womb and even before in the eternal mind of the Father, we have been called and created as a sharp-edged sword and concealed in the shadow of his mighty arm. The LORD has made us a polished arrow and hid us in his quiver. We are his servants through whom he reveals his glory. Like Israel of old, we the New Israel in Christ are his glorious heritage; we are his beloved inheritance. Can there be a more glorious self-awareness? Yet, the military imagery reminds us that we have been so formed and shaped to fight in the conflict between darkness and light, goodness and evil, sin and sanctity. With the sword of God’s Word we slay the lies of the evil one. With the arrow of his love we pierce the hatred of our world. Such a powerful witness will draw Jacob back to the LORD. Only such a testimony to the LORD will attract our brothers and sisters to the splendor of his truth and the beauty of his face. Indeed by the grace of Christ, we will gather the LORD’s chosen ones into his family; we will restore the survivors of Israel. Those who are weak and weary from the exile will gather inspiration and strength from our glorious witness and faithful ministry. In these words of Isaiah we delight in the LORD’s universal salvific will; we rejoice to participate in his desire to save all nations even to the ends of the earth. Such is the wonder of our being made new and holy in the true and faithful priest, king and prophet, the Lord Jesus Christ, who is the light of the nations and the glory of his people Israel.
In the testimony of Saint Luke we hear the preaching of the Apostle Paul. As he was teaching his own people about the Lord Jesus and the salvation that he came to announce, we hear more about the identity and mission of Saint John the Baptist. His whole purpose was to herald the coming of the savior by proclaiming a baptism of repentance to all the people of Israel. Saint John the Baptist was faithful to his name. His baptism of great crowds in the River Jordan summoned all to repent and make way for the true and faithful Son of David, the man after God’s own heart ready to carry out the LORD every wish. Many powerless and weary people came to hear this message of the LORD’s herald. They came with expectant faith and urgent longing to encounter the Promised Messiah, the Son of David who would reign as King of kings. Saint John was careful to explain that he was not the one for whom they longed. Indeed, the Messiah was coming after him and he was not worthy to unfasten the sandals of his feet. This humility of the Prophet John cannot be trivialized or ignored without endangering our own prophetic identity. We to are unworthy servants of the LORD who must decrease so that he might increase. The great affirmation of our true dignity in Christ cannot be permission to wallow and waste away in self-importance. Indeed, our only true dignity is found in our willingness to diminish so that Christ might increase. We cannot claim or expect any more significance than that of Saint John the Baptist. Indeed, such a humble self-awareness is our only true delight and lasting significance. With all the sons of the family of Abraham and all the others who are God-fearing, we have received the message of Saint John the Baptist and the preaching of the Apostle Paul. We have heard the word of salvation and found our true meaning and ministry among all those to whom we have been sent. Such is the purpose and delight of this solemnity of the nativity of Saint John the Baptist.
Long before this day great and wondrous things had happened to Zechariah and Elizabeth. These parents of Saint John the Baptist were prepared for his birth by the vision Zechariah had while serving in the Temple liturgy and by the visitation of the Virgin Mary whose very greeting caused the child within her womb to leap for joy. Such signs and wonders are now brought into the public forum as they name the child. His mother’s assertion was unexpected and startling, “No. He will be called John.” His father’s response in writing confirmed her decision, “John is his name.” Those who gathered were amazed and filled with awe and wonder at the decision of the parents to name their son, John. It was out of the ordinary; it was not the custom of the day. They resisted Elizabeth by pointing out, “There is no one among your relatives who has this name.” Just like Zechariah resisted the Angelic Messenger so the people resisted Elizabeth’s announcement. This kind of public resistance is a foreshadowing of the hostility that Saint John would receive during his preaching. We, too, resist the hand of the LORD and the strength of the Baptist. We, too, are startled by and unfamiliar with the ways of the LORD. Once we no longer resist and respond with awe and wonder, after we have a conversion of heart, then those around us will resist us. Saint John the Baptist lived in solitude and prayer in the desert until the day of his manifestation to Israel. Perhaps, this is a hint for those who share in the prophetic identity. Perhaps, we must hide in the wilderness of prayer and solitude until the LORD calls us forth to witness. For the LORD alone knows us and probes us, the LORD alone searches and tries us in the depths of our being. He, alone, knows when best to have us witness by word and by deed his new and awesome ways among the sons of Abraham and all who fear God. Until then, we need to savor his word and rest in his love so that we might be ready and willing to fulfill the desire of his own heart.