Now the time came for Elizabeth to give birth, and she bore a son. Her neighbours and relatives heard that the Lord had shown his great mercy to her, and they rejoiced with her. On the eighth day they came to circumcise the child, and they were going to name him Zechariah after his father. But his mother said, "No; he is to be called John." They said to her, "None of your relatives has this name." Then they began motioning to his father to find out what name he wanted to give him. He asked for a writing tablet and wrote, "His name is John." And all of them were amazed. Immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue freed, and he began to speak, praising God. Fear came over all their neighbours, and all these things were talked about throughout the entire hill country of Judea. All who heard them pondered them and said, "What then will this child become?" For, indeed, the hand of the Lord was with him. The child grew and became strong in spirit, and he was in the wilderness until the day he appeared publicly to Israel.
In celebrating the memory of the saints, the Liturgy does not celebrate their birthday but usually the day of their death. There are only two exceptions: Mary the mother of Jesus, and John the Baptist. John gets preferential treatment in the Liturgy, which gives him two feast-days a year.
His humility has deeply impressed Christians through the ages. Before anyone had heard of Jesus of Nazareth, people were coming distances to see John the Baptist. Yet he pointed to Jesus and away from himself. “He must increase, I must decrease” (John 3:30). In John’s gospel, the Baptist actually encouraged his disciples to leave him and to follow the Lamb of God.
He seems a grim figure; his dress and his way of speaking were equally rough. Yet the gospels associate him with joy. At the presence of Jesus and Mary, he leapt for joy in his mother’s womb (Luke 1:44); and referring to him, Jesus said, “The friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom's voice” (John 3:29). The source of his joy was probably the humility that so characterised him. With power and success there comes a certain greedy satisfaction, but humility is spacious enough to contain joy. “My spirit rejoices in God my saviour,” cried Mary, “He looks on his servant in her lowliness” (Luke 1:46-47).
Humility is not a fashionable virtue today; it would be seen rather as a condition calling for therapy – a mousey obsequiousness that could probably be traced back to an unhappy childhood. But the mere sight of John the Baptist ought to be enough to dispel that view!
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