From our earlier stages as kids we learnt that all things are not equal. For example the adjective “good” has “better” as comparative and “best” as superlative; we also know about high, higher, highest; big, bigger, biggest; tall, taller, tallest. Etc.
Today we are celebrating the solemnity of the nativity of John the Baptist. Ordinarily we celebrate the saints on the day of their deaths, but John’s birth and death are celebrated in the same way we celebrate the birthday of the Blessed Virgin Mary (September 8) and her Assumption (August 15). From this brief description we can reckon Saint John the Baptist as higher than other Saints while the Blessed Virgin Mary is acknowledged as the highest; of course she is the queen of All Saints.
Everything about John the Baptist was unusual and that made him a very peculiar personality. From the point of view of his birth, he came from very old parents who were advanced enough to be his great grandparents. His birth came after a long period of waiting by the parents. If we cast our minds back we will recall that most sons in the bible came after some rigorous experiences but turned out to be enormously great. We have examples like Isaac, Moses, Samson, Samuel as well as our Lord Jesus Christ.
When John the Baptist began his ministry, he exuded every trace of unusualness. He left the comfort of their home and took habitation with wild animals in the wilderness. His wardrobe consisted only of animal skins and for his meals he relied solely on locust and honey. His preaching was unlike those of the others before him as he dwelt on inner spiritual transformation, justice and fairness and repentance. Unlike the religious teachers of his time who dwelt on mere religious observances, he was more concerned with active spiritual practices.
The name JOHN is from the Hebrew Yohanan which when translated means Gracious Yahweh or put in a much simpler way, God is gracious. The name in essence is an assertion of a fact that is difficult to refute. God’s graciousness is evident in our midst. God’s graciousness brought about the creation, (Gen. 1:1ff).God’s graciousness followed humanity in God’s call of Abraham to raise from him a great nation (Gen.12:1-3).God’s graciousness sought the deliverance of His people from their slavery in the land of Egypt and the plan to lead them to the Promised Land which was later realized (Exodus 3:7-9). God’s graciousness was evident in God’s decision out of His indisputable love to save humanity from eternal damnation by sending his only son to redeem mankind (John 3:16). God’s graciousness is seen in the air we breathe, in the rising of the sun and its setting. God’s graciousness is shown in His constant care for us. Without God’s graciousness which we do not merit, life would have been meaningless and worthless.
The “John” in the Baptist is thus an indication of God’s graciousness in the one He had chosen to prepare the way for the coming of our Saviour Jesus Christ. The Story of the coming of Jesus Christ is incomplete without the story of John the Baptist his precursor and forerunner. The graciousness of God made the Baptist a great prophetic bridge between the old and the new. The graciousness of God conferred on him the title of the greatest among all born of women (Matt. 11:11; Luke 7:28).
The graciousness of God in the Baptist brought about the following rare and significant qualities which we ought to emulate:
- Material detachment: John left home and comfort and consigned himself to the severe environment of the wilderness. In doing this he became spiritually enriched. In our world today that is driven by so much materialism, there is need for us to practice material detachment in order to gain divine attachment.
- Humility: John the Baptist was no doubt gifted but in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ he was humble and demonstrated his humility. He acknowledged the coming of the Messiah and his incompetence before him: “There is one that is coming after me whose sandals I am unfit to untie” (Matt. 3:11; Mark 1:7). It was also with humility that he declared the presence of the Lord before his disciples: “Behold the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29).
- Truthfulness: John the Baptist was not ready to compromise the truth even before threat of the authorities. This was why he was arrested and executed thereafter (Matt.14:1-12).
- Service to God and Humanity: A critical look into the life of John the Baptist indicates that he did not live for himself. He was rather dedicated to working for God and others. He was always found at his duty post preaching (Matt.3:1-3; Mark 1:14-15) and baptising (Luke 3:21; John 3:23).
As we celebrate the solemnity of John the Baptist let us be eager to learn from him. Let especially learn to be detached from material concern and be attached to divine realities. Let us learn to be humble, truthful and also be at the utmost service of others. As he heralded the immediate coming of the messiah, may the celebration today herald the immediate answers to our prayers, immediate opening of doors and immediate transformation of our lives. Have a wonderful celebration.