Homily for the feast of Saint John the Baptist - Lk. 1:57-66,80


by

Canon Dr. Daniel Meynen
 
 

" Now the time came for Elizabeth to be delivered, and she gave birth to a son. And her neighbors and kinsfolk heard that the Lord had shown great mercy to her, and they rejoiced with her.


" And on the eighth day they came to circumcise the child; and they would have named him Zechariah after his father, but his mother said, «Not so; he shall be called John.» And they said to her, «None of your kindred is called by this name.» And they made signs to his father, inquiring what he would have him called. And he asked for a writing tablet, and wrote, «His name is John.» And they all marveled. And immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue loosed, and he spoke, blessing God. And fear came on all their neighbors. And all these things were talked about through all the hill country of Judea; and all who heard them laid them up in their hearts, saying, «What then will this child be?» For the hand of the Lord was with him.


" And the child grew and became strong in spirit, and he was in the wilderness till the day of his manifestation to Israel. "




Homily:


" Now the time came for Elizabeth to be delivered, and she gave birth to a son. And her neighbors and kinsfolk heard that the Lord had shown great mercy to her, and they rejoiced with her. "


Today, for the third time since Pentecost, the Sunday liturgy of ordinary time gives way to a feast, a great feast: that of the Birth of John the Baptist, he who was chosen by God to prepare for the coming of his Son into this world! It is indeed a great feast, a feast of joy, but above all a feast of mercy! For Elizabeth, the mother of John, was barren (cf. Lk. 1:7 and 36) and she gratuitously - through grace - received from the Lord the extraordinary favor of conceiving a son in her old age (cf. Lk. 1:36). "And her neighbors and kinsfolk heard that the Lord had shown great mercy to her, and they rejoiced with her."


But if this is a feast of mercy, it is above all because the birth of John proclaims the coming birth of the Messiah, Christ, the Son of God made man, sent to earth to redeem humanity, fallen since the Original Sin. With the birth of John the Baptist, all of humanity finds itself at a turning point in its history: from that point on, the world will no longer be sunk in sin, but rather the grace of God will, little by little, win over the hearts of men in order to bring them to the praise and service of the thrice holy God! If John, from the time of his conception by his parents Zechariah and Elizabeth, bore the stains of original sin, he was nonetheless sanctified before birth by Jesus himself, when Jesus was in the womb of Mary, his Mother (cf. Lk. 1:41-44).


" And on the eighth day they came to circumcise the child; and they would have named him Zechariah after his father, but his mother said, «Not so; he shall be called John.» And they said to her, «None of your kindred is called by this name.» And they made signs to his father, inquiring what he would have him called. And he asked for a writing tablet, and wrote, «His name is John.» And they all marveled. "


When John the Baptist was born, his father, Zechariah, was dumb. This was a penance. Indeed, nine months earlier, when Zechariah was in the Temple, an Angel of the Lord appeared to him to announce that his wife was going to have a son: "Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer is heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John..." (Lk. 1:13) But Zechariah doubted the power of God and, as a punishment, the angel said to him: "You will be silent and unable to speak until the day that these things come to pass, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their time." (Lk. 1:20)


During the nine months of his wife's pregnancy, Zechariah had time to reflect upon all this and to meditate upon the goodness and the mercy of the Lord who had condescended to cast his gaze upon his family, with the result that one of his descendants would be he who was to proclaim to all the People of God the coming of the Messiah! So, when the moment came to give his son a name, he did not hesitate: he confirmed what his wife Elizabeth had said: "His name is John!" By writing on a tablet the name that the angel had dictated to him, Zechariah manifested his faith in the word of God, and, as the angel had foretold, Zechariah recovered the use of his voice...


" And immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue loosed, and he spoke, blessing God. And fear came on all their neighbors. And all these things were talked about through all the hill country of Judea; and all who heard them laid them up in their hearts, saying, «What then will this child be?» For the hand of the Lord was with him. "


Truly, the birth of John the Baptist takes place at a decisive moment, one that is crucial to all humanity. Zechariah, his father, is the first witness of this: he goes from being incredulous to becoming a believer; from being dumb to becoming the one who proclaims the praises and the blessings of the Almighty! The world will change, for the Messiah is here! Already, he has sanctified John in the womb of his mother; already, mercy goes forth throughout the earth, for God comes to save man in order to transform him into a new man, a man according to the heart of God, a man upon whom rests the hand of the Lord: "the hand of the Lord was with him".


From that point on, John bears a name which did not belong to his ancestors: he bears a new name! A name is what expresses the entire personality of a being. And when the Lord himself bestows a name upon someone, this means that he who receives this name is truly known as such in the very Spirit of God. Now, the name of John means "grace". By naming him thus, the Lord already sees in him his own Son; John is not the Son of God made man, but it is he who announces him, it is he who is his living sign. Another John, he who wrote the fourth Gospel, understood this very well, for he says: "There was a man sent from God, whose name was John... He was not the light, but came to bear witness to the light. The Word was the true Light..." (Jn. 1:6-9)


" And the child grew and became strong in spirit, and he was in the wilderness till the day of his manifestation to Israel. "


Everyone has his own vocation. And so does John - an unusual vocation, it is true. Like everyone else who is called by God, John interiorly prepared for the mission that had been entrusted to him. This was his hidden life. This was his life with the Spirit of the Lord. This was his secret. Is this not a counterpart - although a rather faint one - of the preparation of Mary for the coming of the Lord into her on the day of the Annunciation? For Mary had also received a new name from God: the angel Gabriel called her by the name of "full of grace" (Lk. 1:28)!


May the Most Blessed Virgin Mary be for us on this day, more than on any other day, our mediator before her Divine Son, in order that, through Her, the grace of the Lord might come into our hearts and make us new men according to the heart of God, united in a single faith, a single hope, a single love, in an eternal communion with the Body and Blood of Christ! Amen!



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