GOSPEL, FIRST READING & PSALM TRANSCRIPT (Subscribe or Login for Full Transcript):
Today the church celebrates the Feast of the Nativity of St. John the Baptist, technically the Solemnity of the Nativity of St. John the Baptist.
Every year on June 24 the church celebrates this festival which goes back to ancient times, goes back to the fourth or fifth Centuries A.D.
And this year since it falls on a Sunday in Ordinary Time, the Feast, the Solemnity of John the Baptist, supersedes the Sunday of Ordinary Time.
So one of the things you’ll notice about the readings today is that the gospel will come from the Gospel of Luke even though it's Year B, because that gospel is the one that records the account of the birth of St. John the Baptist. So a few points before we begin to look at the readings for today. I just want to start by pointing out the reason for celebrating the feast today, right. So why does the church celebrate the festival of John's birth on June 24?
Well if you go back to the Gospel of Luke and you think about the story of the Annunciation to Mary, you will recall that when the angel Gabriel appears to Mary, he tells Mary that her cousin Elizabeth is pregnant with a child and that she is now in her sixth month. That’s in Luke 1:36.
And so because of this, we can infer that Jesus is born six months after John the Baptist, and that’s always been the traditional interpretation of the gospel account. So when we think about the of birth of Christ, the traditional date of Christ’s birth being December 25, if you just back it up six months it puts you in June. And so the traditional date for the birth of John the Baptist is June 24 and the church has celebrated it on that date.
Now with that said though there's another kind of deeper reason for this, and it has to do with the Winter and Summer Solstice. So if you pay attention and you don't get confused by daylight savings time — which I hate but I don’t want to go into that right now — if you don't get confused by daylight savings time you’ll notice that as we move toward Christmas the days get gradually shorter and shorter and shorter until we come to the Winter Solstice, which is the shortest day of the year.
And then the light begins to lengthen all the way through to the Summer Solstice, which is in late June, right around June 24-25th.
And in the Summer Solstice you reach the time when the light in the year is at its longest, when the days are at their longest, those long days of summer. So one of the things the church is also doing with celebrating the feast on this day is kind of recognizing the movement of salvation history from John the Baptist coming to the birth of Jesus Christ. And the first person that brought this to my attention was Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger who later went on to become Pope Benedict XVI.
In his book The Spirit of the Liturgy,
which is probably my favorite book that Benedict wrote, well he wrote it before he was Pope, but in his book The Spirit of the Liturgy
Cardinal Ratzinger makes a point about the meaning of this particular feast that the church is celebrating today, the Nativity of John the Baptist.
So I just want to read you his words here. On page 109 Ratzinger says this:
Between the two dates of March 25 [the Annunciation]…
Which is the traditional date by the way of the Annunciation, right. Nine months before December 25.
…and December 25 [Christmas] comes the feast of the forerunner, St. John the Baptist, on June 24
, at the time of the summer solstice
. The link between the dates can now been seen as a liturgical and cosmic expression of the Baptist’s words: “He [Christ] must increase, but I must decrease
” (Jn 3:30). The birthday of St. John the Baptist takes place on the date when the days begin to shorten, just as the birthday of Christ takes place when they begin again to lengthen.”
So what Ratzinger is pointing out there is that not only is the celebration of the birth of John in June premised on the gospel account of the timing of the Annunciation and the birth of John, it also has a kind of cosmic significance. When John says, “He must increase, but I must decrease,” what we see there is this kind of movement from the old covenant to the new covenant in a way that's similar to the movement from the time of winter to the time of spring, to the growing darkness in the world that precedes the birth of Christ at Christmas. And then when Christ comes the days begin to lengthen because he is the light of the world who’s come into the world, right, to bring the light of truth, the light of grace, the light of salvation.
SECOND READING TRANSCRIPT (Subscribe or Login for Full Transcript):
So a lot of people are thinking, Hey, maybe John is the one. Maybe John is the Messiah. Maybe John is the one we've been waiting for. And as Paul tells the people of Antioch and Pisidia, John said to them, “What do you suppose that I am? I am not he.”
Instead, John famously says, “after me one is coming, the sandals of whose feet I am not worthy to untie.”
Why is this important? I think it's important because Paul bears witness to the fact in this speech, that John was so famous and John was so renowned, that a lot of people assumed that he was the Messiah, that he was the one who was to come. And so one of the things John has to do in the face of his fame and in the face of his popularity, and in the face of certain rumors that he might be the one, is actually humble himself and make clear, not only that he is not the Messiah, but that he's not even worthy to carry the sandals of the one who is to come after him. In other words, John himself clarifies that his role in the Gospel, his role in the message of salvation, is going to be that of the forerunner to the one who is to come, of the forerunner to the Messiah, rather than the Messiah himself.
So, in the readings for today, as we're celebrating the Feast of St. John the Baptist, on the one hand we recognize that John's coming, John's advent, John's birth, is such a momentous event that we have a whole feast day to celebrate it and that we recall his coming into the world as the first very clear and visible sign of the fact that the Messiah was also coming. At the same time, the reading in a sense puts John in his place, and makes clear that John is not the hope of the people of Israel. He's not the one who is to come. He's not even worthy to carry the sandals, or to untie the sandals of Christ as the Messiah. So it manifests the humility of John. He is rather the precursor to the Messiah.
And so in order to just demonstrate this and illustrate it, I thought this might be a good opportunity to share with you a little evidence from Josephus, the first century Jewish historian, as to just how famous John was.
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