The Birth of John the Baptist

Luke 1:57-66
Mal 3:1-4,23-24 / Psa 25

Immediately his mouth was opened, and his tongue set free, and he began to speak, praising God.
(Luke 1:64)

Preceded by a prophecy,
His name set his father’s tongue free.
Like St. John may we proclaim boldly
The Good News in our own assembly.

When the time arrived for Elizabeth to have her child, she gave birth to a son. Her neighbors and relatives heard that the Lord had shown her great mercy, and they rejoiced with her. On the eighth day they came to circumcise the child, and they were going to name him after his father Zechariah, but his mother spoke up and said, “No! He is to be called John.” They said to her, “There is no one among your relatives who has that name.” Then they made signs to his father, to find out what he would like to name the child. He asked for a writing tablet, and to everyone’s astonishment he wrote, “His name is John.” Immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue set free, and he began to speak, praising God. All the neighbors were filled with awe, and throughout the hill country of Judea people were talking about all these things. Everyone who heard this wondered about it, asking, “What then is this child going to be?” For the Lord’s hand was with him. (Luke 1:57-66)


Today we commemorate the birth of St. John the Baptist. As we all know, St. John was a cousin of our Lord. Like Jesus, but in a minor way, his coming into the world was also prophesied by Isaiah (40:3), “A voice cries, ‘In the wilderness prepare the way for Yahweh; make straight in the desert a highway for our God.” The prophet Malachi also prophesied his coming: “Now I am sending my messenger ahead of me to clear the way…” (Mal.3:1)

According to our Lord, St. John the Baptist was more than a prophet (Matt. 11:9). Like the Old Testament figures Samuel and Samson, he came from a woman who was supposed to have no more hope of giving birth. His mother, Elizabeth was already very old when he was conceived. Like Samuel and Samson before him, his life was a complete offering to the Lord-as a Nazirite, where “no razor shall touch his head”. He never ate meat or drank wine, and lived like a hermit in the desert, eating only locust and honey. He was God’s special prophet because he prepared the way for the Messiah, the Savior of the world. We see remarkable similarities in the birth of the Baptist and the Messiah. Both of their births were announced by the Archangel Gabriel, their names proclaimed as coming from God Himself. And both of their nativities were manifestations of God’s miraculous power: Jesus Christ born of a virgin, and St. John of a mother no longer capable of childbirth due to old age.

Zechariah, St. John’s father, was a priest, who for his lack of faith in God’s power to make his old wife bear a child, was stricken dumb until after the birth of John. And so for the next 9 months Zechariah would be silent, his tongue imprisoned for his unbelief. It was only after he had affirmed the name of his son as ‘John’ was he able to speak again. St John was the first martyr in the time of our Lord. Like the Messiah, his cousin, he was killed for his unwavering convictions.

It was only because he was human that Zechariah, the saintly father of St. John questioned the angel Gabriel, saying “How can I believe this? I am an old man and my wife is elderly too.” (Luke 1:18). But the light punishment for his unbelief – not being able to speak for almost a year- was meant to deliver the message that in the face of God’s wonder, he should never have doubted the Word of God, for it was almost like insulting the integrity of God’s divine messenger.

St. John, most humble and chaste baptizer of our Lord Jesus Christ, we ask for your intercession. Pray for us, that God may grant us the grace to persevere in times of trial as you persevered when you were imprisoned; to be humble in our dealings, as you were humble, living in the desert; and to boldly proclaim the Word of God, as you yourself proclaimed the coming of the Lord without fear or shame. Amen.

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