He Goes Before the Lord

On the Gospel of Luke 1:57-66, 80

The Solemnity of the Birth of St John the Baptist

St John the Baptist has a unique role in salvation history. His mission is to announce that there is one coming after him, and John is not fit to undo his bootstrap. The Catechism declares that John “goes before the Lord in the spirit and power of Elijah” (CCC 696). John is the last of the prophets, sent to announce the good news that the Saviour has arrived. The “redemption of humanity” and the “Kingdom of God” are now present. Arguably one of John the Baptist’s greatest acts was the Baptism of the Lord. Fulton Sheen explains in his famous work “Life of Christ” that Christ’s baptism was “to identify himself with sinful humanity”. Jesus Christ himself could not sin, but could stand in our place and redeem us. John understood that he was not worthy to baptise Our Lord, however, Jesus instructed him to do so.

This Sunday the Church celebrates the Nativity of St John the Baptist. Jesus calls him the greatest of all men born of women (Matthew 11:11). This Sunday’s Gospel is from the beginning of Luke’s Gospel, with only a few events recounted before it. Zechariah has been struck dumb for disbelieving the angel’s announcement that Elizabeth would conceive a son. Contrasted with Zechariah’s disbelief is the faith of Our Lady at the Annunciation. Before the birth of John, Mary visited her cousin and sang her Magnificat, and John has jumped for joy, in the womb of his mother recognising the presence of Jesus and Mary.

“On the eighth day they came to circumcise the child.” Circumcision can be seen as a type of baptism. In the Old Testament, under the old law all the males had to be circumcised. Why is circumcision a type of baptism? Circumcision of the flesh for the Jews signifies the beginning of a child’s covenant membership in Israel. Baptism is the circumcision of the heart, and is a symbol of our membership of Christ. However, Baptism as a sacrament does what it signifies, and so the Sacrament of Baptism really does make us members of Christ’s Church.

There are a number of things assumed by St Luke and the people described by him in the Gospel. The first is that the people rejoice with Elizabeth and Zechariah when John is born, the attitude of the people is that the arrival of a new life should be celebrated. The second is that a child is a gift from God and for this the people give thanks for the Mercy of God. These two ideas are often forgotten in our times. If one visited the people of Judea at that time and described the fight against abortion to them their reaction would have been disbelief and horror. The Catholic Church’s teaching against abortion is evidence that guided by the Holy Spirit the Church holds the truth of every human person to be honoured and respected. Let us take this opportunity where the Church celebrates the birth of a saint to pray for those who do not accept the Gospel of Life.  Let us also pray that we as a people would recover the spirit of the people in the Gospel allowing us to rejoice in new life, created by God and in the sacrament of Baptism redeemed by Christ.

 

When it was time for Elizabeth to have her baby, she gave birth to a son. Her neighbors and relatives heard that the Lord had shown her great mercy, and they shared her joy. On the eighth day they came to circumcise the child, and they were going to name him after his father Zechariah,but his mother spoke up and said, “No! He is to be called John.”They said to her, “There is no one among your relatives who has that name.” Then they made signs to his father, to find out what he would like to name the child. He asked for a writing tablet, and to everyone’s astonishment he wrote, “His name is John.” Immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue set free, and he began to speak, praising God. All the neighbors were filled with awe, and throughout the hill country of Judea people were talking about all these things. Everyone who heard this wondered about it, asking, “What then is this child going to be?” For the Lord’s hand was with him. And the child grew and became strong in spirit; and he lived in the wilderness until he appeared publicly to Israel.

– Luke 1:57-66, 80

 

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