“What, then. will this child be?” That question from today’s Gospel is certainly key for the celebration of the birth of St. John the Baptist, but definitely also appropriate for all of us too. At the birth of John the Baptist, the Incarnation was starting to get noticeable. God’s plan had already been worked out with Mary and Joseph and Elizabeth and Zechariah. But now their relatives and neighbors were starting to see things happen. Unusual things. Like the birth of a boy to a couple way too old to be starting a family. Naming him something that no one in their families had been called. It’s no wonder that people were starting to notice the mystery and asked “what, then, will this child be?”
And that’s a question that’s important for all of us. Every time a new child is born, we might wonder what their life and their world will be like. This Sunday, I baptized seven children and I couldn’t help but wonder where life would take them. What, then, will they be? Because we all have a purpose. Just as John the Baptist was called from his mother’s womb to be the forerunner of Christ, so we all have a call – very much from our mother’s womb – something God has always intended for us to do. It is, of course, the great project of our lives to work that out. And we must pray daily for the discernment necessary for us to know God’s will so that we would be what God intended. That’s the only way we can be really happy, I’m convinced of it.
We are all, as the Psalmist says, wonderfully made. We are all called to live a prophetic life that gives witness to Jesus Christ, just as his cousin John the Baptist did in his life. When we finally embrace God’s will for us, that’s the only time we can be truly free. Just as finally accepting God’s plan and naming the child according to God’s plan freed Zechariah’s tongue. God’s will in our lives is never constrictive: it is freeing, and when we freely choose to follow, we can never be anything but happy.
This wonderful feast of John’s birth is really a tradition. Just like we don’t know the exact day of Jesus’ birth, John’s is not known either. There were no birth certificates back then! St. Augustine was the one who taught that this should be the date of John’s birth – six months before Jesus was born. And he was born near the summer solstice, at the point where days start getting shorter, while Jesus was born at the winter solstice, at the point where days start getting longer. This mimics John the Baptist’s statement in John’s Gospel that “He (meaning Jesus) must increase, and I (meaning John the Baptist) must decrease.
What, then, will we be? Where will God’s will take us? God knows. So we just pray for the grace to receive it, so that we can be really, truly free. Because when we decrease so that Jesus can increase, great things can and will happen.