The Nativity of John the Baptist
There is something within all of us that wants to be recognized, acclaimed, appreciated. We usually want to get credit for the good we do, the words that we say, the ministries that we take part in. But, if the truth be told, very few folks get the credit that they deserve. Many, like John the Baptist - whose birth we celebrate today - carry on ministries of tremendous importance to prepare for the future, but are seldom recognized for that role. In fact, many believed that John himself was the long-awaited Messiah. And he continually had to remind people that his role in God's plan was totally different from what they believed.
If John had not prepared the people with a spiritual revival that emphasized conversion of heart, baptism, and forgiveness, Jesus' would never have had a foundation on which to build - he would have had to build it himself, diverting him from his chief ministry and emphasis.
We have no greater means of catechesis than our liturgy. Over the past several months we have listened and learned, and watched God's plan of salvation unfold before us. We can acclaim with the certainty of faith that our God communicates truth and love for humanity in the person of Jesus. Both during his time on earth and in his risen life, Jesus communicates in specific human events, actions and words. And yet, God's meaning always exceeds the human vesture in which it is clothed. Jesus knew this and sent The Spirit, who enlightens the minds and hearts of all believers with truth and persuades their hearts by love so that they can discern in Christ's life, death and resurrection the path to fullness of life with God.
This is what the liturgy has taught us as we traveled through the seasons of Lent and Easter; as we celebrated the feasts of Pentecost and Trinity Sunday; and as we proclaimed Christ's continued presence in the Eucharist on the feast of Corpus Christi. This is the message of the Gospel, the mission that Jesus came to fulfill.
This is also the message that John was sent to proclaim. His was a ministry of preparation. He is the messenger of God's covenant with His people - the one whose role would be to "make ready a people prepared to for the Lord." The Jews of John's time were looking savation in political terms - deliverance from the oppression of the Romans. But John's mission was to give the people "the knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins." John's message would be "Repent, for the kindgom of heaven is near at hand." Jesus' message was "Rejoice, the kingdom of heaven is here, and salvation is present now."
This salvation is not just a whim, but is part of God's ancient covenant with mankind, to care for and deliver his people. The lives of God's people who have been given salvation are to reflect "holiness and righteousness" before God all their days. We live in an age that laughs at the concept of holiness and taunts anyone who seeks to live a holy life. Even some church people mock the idea. In a culture that is increasingly more fragmented and torn apart, giving ourselves over into His hands, learning to follow Christ, to find God in our daily lives and to truly live the life of discipleship is no easy feat.
But the central message which we have been given is that the Lord has already come, He has put an end to our fears, He has taken away the curse of our sins, He has baptized us in the Holy Spirit, He has comforted us. He has come like a good shepherd to gather the lambs in His arms.
The voice of John the Baptist cries out in the desert, reminding us that we have a ministry as well; not one of preparation, but one of continuation. We are not waiting for God's promise of redemption to be fulfilled. Rather, we are supposed to be living as people who have experienced the incredible goodness of God... people who have been baptized into Jesus Christ and share His life... and as people who walk toward him - not in fear - but with joyful faith. Miracles continue to take place around us because of our faith, because of our common commitment to Jesus and His Gospel.
Our God is the God of life, abundance, deliverance and joy. Through us, our brothers and sisters are able to put away fear, to move from darkness to light, to begin to hear again the words of life. We can reach out to support those whose hands are feeble, whose knees are weak.
We have learned a lot about who Jesus is. Now we must learn about who we are as his followers. If we choose to sit back and simply leave this work to others, then we are truly out of touch with God, whose community and ministry are the concern of all disciples.
John the Baptist's ministry was one of preparation; ours is one of continuation. We continue Christ's mission so that the ministry of his church in the future can be more effective. It doesn't matter whether or not we are appreciated. But it does matter that we are faithful to God who called us to salvation. Like John, we cannot be silent. We cannot be afraid of contradiction and ridicule. We cannot be afraid to pay the price for carrying on the prophetic mission of Jesus Christ.
The Birth of John the Baptist - oil on canvas
Bartolomé Esteban Murillo