“His name is John”
“Who we are meant to be?”
by John Campion SDB
We rejoice at the birth of John the Baptist a wonderful gift from God. Zechariah his father discovered God’s plan for him in his Annunciation. He is told that he and Elizabeth will be gifted with a son and they will call him John. John means gracious gift and the choice of name was a grateful acknowledgment of the unexpected goodness of God in a gift of a son to them. When John is officially named, Zechariah’s speech returns and he gives praise to God. The neighbours and friends are filled with wonder and awe and they ask what will this child turn out to be?
It is a natural question for any parent to ask with the birth of their child. Who are they like and what will they become? The people could see the hand of God was with him and he is blessed in his parents whose fidelity and faith is rewarded. He is to be the Elijah whose is to prepare the way of Jesus. John grew to maturity and through the example of his parents, love and faith he is prepared for mission. His elderly parents may not have been around to see him die but had witnessed his commitment as he grew up.He leaves home dressed in camel skin and living on locusts and wild honey. His life in the desert is one of self denial, integrity of life and purpose and an uncomprimising prophetic voice of the old pointing to the new. His voice was a sharp edged sword as he cried out in the wildernness.
Prepare the way of the Lord and he preached a baptism of repentance. He was calling the people back to a relationship with God. He would baptise with water but Jesus would baptise with the Holy Spirit. It didnt bring him glory and honour on earth. It brought him to a sad a lonely reality in Herod’s dungeon as he stood for the truth.
John’s whole life was to lead others in the right direction. His life was to serve God and lead others to God. His feast relates to the Summer solstice when the days become short reminding us He must increase and I must decrease. His life was not about serving himself or trying to make people happy. His life was about serving God and it is inviting us to think of what are we doing with our life? Where do I need to decrease in my life so that Jesus can increase. In the moments I spend by myself, can I do so for the Lord? In the moments I spend serving others can I do so for the Lord? In the moments I have difficulty loving people around me or even myself, can I do so for the Lord. What can I do daily so that my life points less to me and more to Jesus. Our feast today is pointing us to a better way of life and to give thanks for those who have helped us to become who we are meant to be.
Scripture readings: Courtesy of Universalis Publishing Ltd. – www.universalis.com
Reflections and Prayers by Fr Jack Finnegan SDB
1st Reading – Isaiah 49:1-6
Islands, listen to me,
pay attention, remotest peoples.
The Lord called me before I was born,
from my mother’s womb he pronounced my name.
He made my mouth a sharp sword,
and hid me in the shadow of his hand.
He made me into a sharpened arrow,
and concealed me in his quiver.
He said to me, ‘You are my servant (Israel)
in whom I shall be glorified’;
while I was thinking, ‘I have toiled in vain,
I have exhausted myself for nothing’;
and all the while my cause was with the Lord,
my reward with my God.
I was honoured in the eyes of the Lord,
my God was my strength.
And now the Lord has spoken,
he who formed me in the womb to be his servant,
to bring Jacob back to him,
to gather Israel to him:
‘It is not enough for you to be my servant,
to restore the tribes of Jacob and bring back the survivors of Israel;
I will make you the light of the nations
so that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.’
Today we meditate on the second Servant Song from Isaiah. In this song Isaiah emphasises God’s call to the servant from before birth. Have you noticed that, by selecting this text, the Church draws our attention to the Baptist’s dedication to God while still in his mother’s womb rather than to his subsequent ministry? Before I was born the Lord called me; from my mother’s womb he has spoken my name. God is at the centre of the Baptist’s whole life. God alone is his strength, and in God the whole world is his mission. Can we say something similar about our own lives? Where is God for us today? What is God asking us to do?
LORD, Adonai, your servant heard your call before he was born. You made his tongue like a sharpened sword, his life like a polished arrow. The shadow of your hand covered him as he called your people and the whole world back to you. Even though he felt like a failure he remained faithful. May we too respond to your loving call. May we, too, let your light shine in the world around us. May we, too, remain faithful. May we honour you and praise you. Now and forever. Amen.
Psalm 139 paints a glorious picture of God’s beauty, power, presence and vision. Our God searches everything. Every moment and every action unfold in God’s sight. The psalm also celebrates our human existence in all its dimensions as fully centred on God. For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. In God’s loving presence we come to know ourselves not only as lovingly known but as awesomely and wonderfully made. Do you see the connection to the Baptist’s story? Do you see the reasons for prayerful gratitude and praise?
LORD, Adonai, how beautiful you are, how glorious! Your works are wonderful! You knit me together in my mother’s womb. You are familiar with all my ways. You know me and search me afresh every day! All my comings and all my goings are open books before you. Even darkness is as light to you. You know me and hear me! You are with me and lead me! And so, with joy in my heart I lift my songs of thanks and praise to you. I glory in the wonders of your creation. May the whole world rejoice in the wonders of your glorious presence. Now and forever. Amen.
2nd Reading – Acts 13:22-26
Paul said: ‘God deposed Saul and made David their king, of whom he approved in these words, “I have selected David son of Jesse, a man after my own heart, who will carry out my whole purpose.” To keep his promise, God has raised up for Israel one of David’s descendants, Jesus, as Saviour, whose coming was heralded by John when he proclaimed a baptism of repentance for the whole people of Israel. Before John ended his career he said, “I am not the one you imagine me to be; that one is coming after me and I am not fit to undo his sandal.”
‘My brothers, sons of Abraham’s race, and all you who fear God, this message of salvation is meant for you.’
Today we turn our attention to one of the great speeches in the Acts of the Apostles. It takes the form of a sermon on the life and ministry of Jesus. The section from which it comes recites the main events of salvation history: Egypt, David, the Baptist, Jesus. Note how the story of Jesus begins with John the Baptist rather than Jesus’ own birth. The Baptist is portrayed as the Precursor. The Venerable Bede puts it like this: The great forerunner of the morn, the herald of the world is born. The tradition also pictures the Baptist as prophet, voice, lamp, herald, friend of the bridegroom, baptiser of the Saviour, forerunner of the king, martyr. John stood for justice and lost his life. Where do we stand?
Lord Jesus, thank you for sending your message of salvation to us today. How awesome the workings of your Spirit in the history of the world, preparing the way before you. Thank you for John the Baptist whose birth we celebrate today. Thank you for his prophetic ministry. Our forebears honoured him as your prophet, voice, lamp, herald, friend, baptiser, forerunner and martyr. He stood with courage for justice and salvation. Raise up many men and women today with similar courage and qualities. May we stand with you. May we, too, like you and the Baptist, care for the poor and the oppressed. Now and forever. Amen.
Gospel Reading – Luke 1:57-66,80
The time came for Elizabeth to have her child, and she gave birth to a son; and when her neighbours and relations heard that the Lord had shown her so great a kindness, they shared her joy.
Now on the eighth day they came to circumcise the child; they were going to call him Zechariah after his father, but his mother spoke up. ‘No,’ she said ‘he is to be called John.’ They said to her, ‘But no one in your family has that name’, and made signs to his father to find out what he wanted him called. The father asked for a writing-tablet and wrote, ‘His name is John.’ And they were all astonished. At that instant his power of speech returned and he spoke and praised God. All their neighbours were filled with awe and the whole affair was talked about throughout the hill country of Judaea. All those who heard of it treasured it in their hearts. ‘What will this child turn out to be?’ they wondered. And indeed the hand of the Lord was with him.
Meanwhile the child grew up and his spirit matured. And he lived out in the wilderness until the day he appeared openly to Israel.
The gospel tells the story of the birth, circumcision, and naming of John the Baptist. Elizabeth’s neighbours and relatives rejoice with her because she had been childless. With the words, the Lord magnified his mercy upon her, Luke emphasises the central role played by God’s grace in the story of John the Baptist. According to custom, circumcision took place eight days after birth and the child was named at that time. It was common for the wider community to participate in the naming process. But Elizabeth and Zechariah surprised those present by insisting that the new-born was to be called John. Not surprisingly, the return of Zechariah’s voice was viewed as miraculous. With God’s grace so obviously at work, the scene was set for the events that would later unfold during John’s ministry. And the child grew and became strong in spirit; and he lived in the wilderness until he appeared publicly to Israel. Are you ready to be a light with him?
Lord Jesus, we, too, share Elizabeth’s joy. We, too, rejoice at the birth of the one who prepared the way before you. Open our lips as you did for Zechariah. Grant your Church the courage to witness to your great love and compassion, especially in difficult times, and in times of danger. Give us a share in the Baptist’s work, a share in his vision. Share with us his grace-filled commitment to you from the very first moments of his existence. May your hand be with us! May your light guide us! May our oneness with you grow deeper! May your compassion inspire us in all we do and say! Now and forever. Amen.
“I tell you solemnly, of all the children born of woman, a greater than John the Baptist has never been seen” (Mt 11,11). There could not be any testimony more worthy of belief than that which comes from the mouth of Jesus. The Church today, in celebrating the birth of this man, a prophet of God and the precursor of the Messiah, is honouring the esteem and devotion that Jesus had for him. And we have good reason: Christians of our day can learn something very profound about God from the life of John the Baptist. His figure and his destiny remind us of his mission to the world, and help us to understand its consequences.
Read: understand what the text is saying, focussing on how it says it
The naming of John the Baptist (Lk 1,59-64) is given more attention than the account of his birth (Lk 1,57-58). The choice made by God is announced through the action of the Spirit as something already decided. When the child was circumcised, his parents did the will of God, even though it was contrary to the opinion of the relatives. Their obedience was deemed meritorious
When her time was due. Elizabeth gave birth to a son about whom many extraordinary things were already being said. Her pregnancy was extraordinary, since she was barren, and consequently it brought even greater joy than usual. The participation of neighbours and relatives in the joy of the birth was normal. God is at the origin of all life and it was evident that this needs to be celebrated. The joy was limited to family and friends, and was not shared by all the people. Their messiah had not yet come.
The law prescribed circumcision on the eighth day (Lev 12,3). On receiving the sign of the covenant (Gen 17,11) the child became part of the chosen people and heir to God’s promises. In the beginning, the child was named at birth (Gen 21,3). Later the naming came to coincide with the ceremony of circumcision. It was not usual for the child to be given the father’s name, but he received his name from the father (Ruth 4,17). Contrary to all expectations and contrary to custom, in this case it was the mother who announced the name that God had revealed to her husband. Elizabeth was acting in accordance with the will of God. The family were unaware of this and it was not unreasonable for them to disagree and ask the father to intervene. He cannot speak and, as if he were also deaf, they made a sign to ask his opinion. The father is entitled to the last word. He wrote the name on a tablet of wood. All present were amazed that the parents agreed on the name, but they did not realize the deep significance of what was happening. Zechariah gave the child the name that God had given (Lk 1,13)!
As soon as he obeyed, Zechariah’s speech was restored. The man who became dumb when he did not believe, received his voice again when he obeyed God’s word. Without giving any explanation of what had happened, he began to bless God. He recovered his voice in order to praise God again. Despite the fact that he had not believed God, he was able to obey him and then to praise him. Here we see a perfect example of the journey that leads to the praise of God – he returns from incredulity and his silence is transformed into prayer.
Fear is the normal reaction when a miracle is foretold. Those who witness the divine power are afraid at the time, but they later become witnesses for the whole region (Lk 1,39). All who came to know of what had happened, took it seriously. The believer is not satisfied with overcoming amazement, but tries to find the meaning of the event, and acknowledges that hand of God behind what has happened. This inevitably leads to questions about the future of the child (Lk 1,80).
Meditate: apply what the text says to life
John’s birth marks the fulfilment of God’s promise. The incredulous father is changed into a man of prayer, when he submits to the divine will. It is only then, after the relatives and neighbours have assisted with joy at the event, that they perceive the hand of God at work in what has happened. Elizabeth comes to know the name that God has given the child and Zechariah accepts the name, at the same time accepting this child as a gift from God. The relatives sense something special, and their joy at the new life prompts them to search for its significance. Without understanding fully, they are already preparing to discover the hand of God in the history of his people.
Doubt took away the father’s speech. Obedience restored it. Naming the newborn child was an exercise of his authority as father, and it implied recognizing this child as his son. The prophecy of the birth of a son took him by surprise. Now this child will have a name, and a mission that surpassed all his father’s hopes. His birth was a sign of God’s mercy and his name would recall God’s mercy forever more. Nobody knew yet what God intended by the birth of this child, but the child’s father knew that he was the fruit of God’s grace. Something great was to be expected of him since his life had begun in such extraordinary circumstances. Zechariah had learnt one thing – God’s plan must be obeyed. Unfortunately we continue to put obstacles in the way of God’s kindness towards his people, as Zechariah did before the birth of his son. We are unable to believe that God could love us so much, and so we refuse to obey. God cannot be more merciful towards us, because we do not pay him enough attention, and we are afraid to obey him because we do not know where our obedience will lead. And so we are lost.
We still have something to learn from God, we who today are celebrating the birth of John the Baptist. Like his father Zechariah, we should understand that God wants to find obedience in the people he chooses to become partners in his plan. When he comes near his people, God looks for those who are always obedient to his will. All the years of their marriage, before their son was conceived, Elizabeth and Zechariah had desired and often prayed for a child. When God showed that he was ready to answer their prayer, freeing them from the opprobrium of childlessness, they could not believe it – they did not trust God. God had made them wait so long that, when he did grant them a child, they thought it was no longer possible. God had not forgotten their wish. He was slow in responding so that it would be clear that the son that was born to them in their old age was not the fruit of their desires but proof of God’s kindness.
The father’s doubt led to his loss of speech, and only obedience could restore it. He did not trust God and he remained dumb, but when he gave the newborn child its name, he recovered his speech. The son, whose birth came as a surprise, will now have a name and a mission in life, contrary to all expectations. His birth is proof of God’s mercy and his name will recall God’s mercy forever. His name had to be John because his life was a gift from God, and he could have no other purpose in life than to offer it to God. None of his family knew yet what God intended to do with this child, but his father knew that he was the fruit of God’s grace and he could not remain silent. He wrote the name on a tablet and as a result he recovered his speech. Zechariah, who could not speak when he started to doubt, recovered his speech when he returned to being obedient.
What happened to Zechariah should serve us as a warning and an example. The father had to learn something which he either did not know or did not want to know, even though he was a strong believer and a zealous priest. God normally helps those who ask for his help, but in order to act God must make servants of those who ask. Every plan of God requires people who will do his will. When God gives his grace he expects to find obedience. Refusing to obey transforms us into mute spectators of his salvation.
The worst thing of all is that – like Zechariah before the birth of his son – we continue to prevent God showing kindness to his people, because we are incapable of believing that he loves us so much. God cannot be more merciful to us because we pay him so little attention. We do not allow him to give us what we desire most, because we are not ready to have him as our only Lord. We lose interest in him and we ignore his demands for further obedience. And so, foolishly, we lose the grace of God, and our world loses the forerunners of Christ that God planned to send.
The really tragic thing is that anyone who remains silent about the grace that God has shown him, or hides the gifts he has received from God, is not only guilty of disobedience and ingratitude to God, but also becomes a dumb and therefore useless witness to the world. It serves God little if those who receive his gifts do not have the courage to make them known. In order to convince the world, God still needs believers who speak what they know and bear witness to God’s goodness towards them. For as long as those of us who have received grace from God continue to opt for silence, the world around us will not know that it can count on a God who is all mercy. Our world is missing people like John the Baptist who will devote their whole lives to telling the world how good God is.
This is precisely the mission of every Christian. Jesus still has need of witnesses who, like John the Baptist, will go before him proclaiming that God is still interested in us, that God desires that we become better, and he wants to be even closer to us than he is at present. It should be clear to us in today’s world that God is present among our contemporaries, but he is so much undervalued by us that fewer and fewer of those who do not believe go to the bother even of denying his existence. We find it hard to believe in God’s goodness because we are so aware of our own evil. This makes it all the more urgent to find believers who take God and his mercy seriously. Nowadays, Christians are like Zechariah who remained silent about the gift God had given him. We close ourselves in our silence, choosing to keep to ourselves what we know about God. We refuse to be God’s witnesses and forerunners of his Son in the world.
God gains very little by being good to us if we then keep quiet about it. When Jesus began preaching the Kingdom of God, he found the road prepared, because John the Baptist had gone before him, calling the people to conversion and offering the grace of God. John was able to do so because he knew that life was a gift from God, and a chance to receive God’s grace and forgiveness. John did not keep quiet about the grace he had received. He did not keep it to himself. He went around preaching, preparing the people for the one who was to come. That is what we celebrate today, the reason for our celebration. Unlike his father, Zechariah, John did not keep quiet about the grace of God. He wanted all the people to receive what he had received. It was not enough for him to know that God had been good to him. He dedicated himself, body and soul, to ensure that his people would know the goodness of God. He felt an urgent need to become the forerunner of Jesus in the proclamation of the Kingdom.
If we bear witness to Jesus privately only, if he is absent in our families, if God has not yet become present in our lives, if his Kingdom is still to come, then we have all the pre-requisites to start proclaiming what we know of God. As long as God is still absent in the lives of people around us, and Christ has not yet come again in our world, we, as Christians, have an obligation to go before him and prepare a way for him. Jesus came into our world for the first time when John the Baptist had prepared the way. He is waiting now for us to take seriously our mission so that he can come again into the world. Why then are we waiting? Why do we not devote ourselves wholeheartedly to what God wants of us, to become witnesses of his Son … until he comes again?