Sunday, 24 June 2018 : Solemnity of the Nativity of St. John the Baptist (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : White

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this Sunday we celebrate the occasion on the twenty-fourth day of June, the Solemnity of the Nativity or the birth of St. John the Baptist, son of Zechariah and Elizabeth, and cousin of the Lord Jesus Christ. St. John the Baptist was the one who was prophesied by the prophets to be the one who would prepare the way for the coming of the Messiah and God, Jesus Christ.

As such, he was the Herald of the Messiah and the one who announced the imminent coming of God’s salvation and kingdom into this world. This he did say, by calling the people to repent from their sins and to be baptised by him in the River Jordan, and hence, his name, St. John the Baptist. He announced that the coming of the kingdom of God was near, and that he was the voice calling out in the wilderness, just as the Scriptures had predicted.

St. John the Baptist was God’s servant from even before he was conceived in his mother’s womb, just as the Lord had spoken through the prophet Jeremiah. This prophet would be God’s instrument to speak to the nations, through whom the people of God, all mankind would come to hear the Good News of the coming of His salvation, which has finally arrived after the long awaited and expected Saviour has been prophesied for many ages.

St. John the Baptist is the one who had done all the difficult tasks in order to prepare for the Lord’s coming. Why is that so? That is because many of the people were not ready for the Lord’s coming, and in fact, if we read throughout the Gospels and the New Testament, we should be able to see just how many among the people of God refused to believe in the truth that the Lord Himself had brought them, and stubbornly continued to live in their old ways of sin.

It was told that St. John the Baptist was the prophet Elijah who was sent again into the world to complete his mission. The prophet Elijah was taken up into heaven by God on a flaming chariot, and it was this that made the people to believe that the prophet had once again come into the world. However, whether St. John the Baptist was truly the prophet Elijah sent into the world, only the Lord knows, and is immaterial.

What is important is that, because of St. John the Baptist, many of the people turned to the Lord and sought genuine repentance, coming to him to be baptised and to listen to his teachings. And even in fact, some of Christ’s earliest disciples, including those among His Twelve Apostles, were the disciples of St. John the Baptist, such as St. Andrew and St. John the Evangelist, if not more others from among those earliest followers of the Lord.

It was to St. Andrew and St. John the Evangelist that St. John the Baptist told, “Here is the Lamb of God!” when the Lord Jesus Christ came to the River Jordan asking for baptism from St. John the Baptist. Those two disciples of St. John the Baptist and probably some others henceforth followed the Lord Jesus, and St. John the Baptist let them go on their way. This is one of the many great qualities of St. John the Baptist that all of us Christians must take note.

St. John the Baptist was a humble and devout worker of the Lord, devoting his entire life to the service of God. His holiness and commitment was likely noted since early in his life, not less because of the amazing manner of his birth as we heard in the Gospel passage today. An Angel of the Lord himself told Zechariah his father, of what St. John the Baptist would become, and he lived in the desert, preparing for the day of the Messiah’s coming.

St. John the Baptist did not seek glory and power for himself, and he did all the work for the greater glory of God, and not for his own. He could have declared that he was the Messiah or Saviour long awaited by the people of Israel, but he did not do so. When the Pharisees came to ask him about this, he openly said that he was not the One Whom they were waiting for, but that He would come soon.

And this must be understood in the context of the history of the time, as at that time, there were several influential and charismatic people among the Jewish community who rose up in rebellion against the Romans, claiming that they were the Messiah who was promised by God. But all of their uprisings and rebellions failed, as God was not with them. Yet, if St. John the Baptist wanted, he could have seized the opportunity and claim fame and glory for himself.

St. John the Baptist openly said that, while his disciples asked him what he would do about Jesus, Whose star was rising and more and more came to see Him instead of him, that he was in fact pleased with it, as it was how it was supposed to be, as he was merely the servant of God, awaiting for the coming of God’s Saviour to come, and was not the Saviour himself. He did not seek anything more beyond fulfilling what he has been called to do.

And then, St. John Baptist was also a fearless and committed follower of God, who did not shrink from his obligation and responsibility to the people of God, by even standing up to those who would cause others to lose their faith in God, as what the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law had done with their actions and their behaviour. St. John the Baptist called the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law as brood of vipers in front of the people to show this disgust at their self-serving activities.

When king Herod, the ruler of the land, behaved wickedly by committing adultery with the wife of his deceased brother, Herodias, St. John the Baptist openly and fearlessly chastised the king for his sinful behaviour and attitude. He was imprisoned for that, and even when he was in prison, he would continue to chastise the king and rebuke him, not fearing for his life. In the end, he was martyred when Herodias, having grudge on St. John the Baptist, arrange for him to be killed.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, we should follow in the examples of St. John the Baptist, just as today we rejoice celebrating the birth of this great messenger and servant of God. Have we been as devout and as courageous as St. John the Baptist in his faith and dedication to the Lord? Have we been as humble and as selfless in how we lived our lives as St. John the Baptist had been? Or have we instead been tempted by worldly temptations of power, wealth, glory and others?

Let today’s commemoration be a reminder for us, that each and every one of us as Christians are also called to follow in the footsteps of St. John the Baptist, in declaring the truth and the Good News which we ourselves have received from those who have shown them to us. We have to carry on the truth and the Good News with ourselves, and pass them on to more people, to others who have not yet received them.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, how do we then follow in the footsteps of the great St. John the Baptist? It is by being honest and sincere in our faith, putting God at the centre of our lives, instead of our ego, our pride, our ambition and greed. These are obstacles that commonly become stumbling rocks in our path towards God and righteousness in Him. And if we do not remove these obstacles, it is likely that we will stumble and fall, and that is sin.

But when we encounter these challenges in life, do we then fear of failing or stumbling? It is part of our learning process to fail and to stumble. Certainly, St. John the Baptist himself had encountered many challenges, and even he, as a man, also had his doubts and fears. While in prison, as the Gospel recorded, he sent one of his disciples to the Lord Jesus, asking Him whether He was truly the Messiah or whether he should wait for another to come. But, in the end, he remained faithful and true to his calling, right down to his martyrdom.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, therefore, let us all be inspired by the life and the dedication of St. John the Baptist in our own lives, and in how we devote ourselves to God from now on. If we have not been truly faithful in how we lived our lives, now is the time for us to turn ourselves wholeheartedly to God, doing our best to be faithful from now on, becoming worthy and good bearers of His truth, through our actions and deeds, by loving one another and loving God to the best of our abilities. May the Lord be with us all, now and forevermore. Amen.

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