The Birth of John the Baptist

Nativity_john_baptistLuke 1:1-25, 57-68, 76, 80

It may not seem a remarkable thing that the Church observes the birth of John. But consider that we only celebrate two other birthdays in our entire liturgical calendar. Along with John’s birthday we celebrate the Nativity of Christ and the birth of the Theotokos, that’s it. This uniqueness should alert us to the importance of our celebration today. The importance of reflecting on John’s birth as a special liturgical celebration was not lost on St. Augustine who wrote a sermon for this feast day. He picked up on what the Church seems to want for this feast. He first contrasted John’s birth and life with that of his cousin, our Lord God and Savior Jesus. Second, St. Augustine theologically reflects on the significance of the Forerunner’s birth.

St. Augustine said, “John is born of an old woman who is barren; Christ is born of a young woman who is a virgin. That John will be born is not believed, and his father is struck dumb; that Christ will be born is believed, and he is conceived by faith.

John, it seems, has been inserted as a kind of boundary between the two Testaments, the Old and the New. That he is somehow or other a boundary is something that the Lord himself indicates when he says, The Law and the prophets were until John. So he represents the old and heralds the new. Because he represents the old, he is born of an elderly couple; because he represents the new, he is revealed as a prophet in his mother’s womb. You will remember that, before he was born, at Mary’s arrival he leapt in his mother’s womb. Already he had been marked out there, designated before he was born; it was already shown whose forerunner he would be, even before he saw him. These are divine matters, and exceed the measure of human frailty. Finally, he is born, he receives a name, and his father’s tongue is loosed.

Zachary is struck dumb and loses his voice, until John, the Lord’s forerunner, is born and releases his voice for him. What does Zachary’s silence mean, but that prophecy was obscure and, before the proclamation of Christ, somehow concealed and shut up? It is released and opened up by his arrival, it becomes clear when the one who was being prophesied is about to come. The releasing of Zachary’s voice at the birth of John has the same significance as the tearing of the veil of the Temple at the crucifixion of Christ. If John were meant to proclaim himself, he would not be opening Zachary’s mouth. The tongue is released because a voice is being born – for when John was already heralding the Lord, he was asked, Who are you and he replied I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness. John is the voice, but the Lord in the beginning was the Word. John is a voice for a time, but Christ is the eternal Word from the beginning.” (Sermo 293, 1-3; PL 38, 1327-1328)

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3 Comments

Filed under Orthodox Christianity, Scripture Rumination

3 responses to “The Birth of John the Baptist

  1. Joan Kirkpatrick

    Interesting, food for thought!

  2. Susan Stabile

    Thanks for sharing this. I love the image of John as the boundary between the Old and New Testaments. Blessings, Susan

  3. PW

    Very good insights and food for thought. Thank you

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