Today we celebrate a feast that is a bit unusual for us. When we celebrate a saint’s day, it is usually celebrated on the feast of their death, not their birth. But today we celebrate the birth of a saint, Saint John the Baptist, and the fact that we’re celebrating his birth points to the fact that St. John the Baptist had a very special role to play in the life of Christ. In fact, the only other saint for whom we celebrate a birthday is the Blessed Virgin Mary.
In our first reading today, Isaiah says that he was given his name while in his mother’s womb. The same was true of Saint John the Baptist, whose name was given to Zechariah and Elizabeth by the Angel Gabriel. Names have meaning. The names of the prophets we encounter in today’s Liturgy of the Word are particularly meaningful. Isaiah means “The LORD is salvation,” which pretty much encompassed the meaning of Isaiah’s mission, proclaiming salvation to the Israelites who were oppressed in exile. The name given to the Baptist, John, means “God has shown favor.” And that was in fact the message of his life. He came to pave the way for Jesus Christ, who was the favor of God shown to the whole human race.
Ultimately, the purpose for Saint John the Baptist’s life was summed up in a statement he made about himself and Our Lord later on in the Gospel of John: “I must decrease, He must increase.” And so it must be for us. Sometimes we want to turn the spotlight on ourselves, at least unconsciously, when that is, of course, exactly where it should not be. For John the Baptist, the spotlight was always on Christ, the One whose sandals he was unfit to fasten. Just as the birth of Saint John the Baptist helped his father Zechariah to speak once again, so his life gives voice to our own purpose in the world. Like Saint John the Baptist, we are called to be a people who point to Christ, who herald the Good News, and who live our lives for God. We are called to decrease, while Christ increases in all of us. We are called to be that light to the nations of which Isaiah speaks today, so that God’s salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.
Saint John the Baptist, pray for us.