HOMILY FOR THE SOLEMNITY OF THE BIRTH OF JOHN THE BAPTIST.
HOMILY THEME: *”He is prominent not because he was saved from original sin or because he was sent as a prophet to prepare a way for the messiah but because he carried out his mission with total dedication, humility and selflessness”.*
BY: Fr. C. C. Aladi
GOSPEL Luke 1:57-66, 80
My dearest children of God We have gathered today to celebrate the feast of the Birth of John the Baptist. The readings of this Sunday should have been that of the 12th Sunday in Ordinary Time but because John’s birth ushered in a great period in salvation history and because of his prominent role in the history of salvation as the forerunner of the Messiah who preached repentance and prepared Israel for the coming of the Messiah, the church accords this great and last prophet of the OT that respect and dignity he deserves by celebrating his birthday on this Sunday and thus replacing the readings of the 12th Sunday with entirely different readings that portrays the circumstances and events surrounding his birth.
*WHAT AN EXCEPTIONAL AND UNIQUE BIRTHDAY CELEBRATION*
Ordinarily the Church observes the day of a saint’s death as his feast, because that day marks his entrance into heaven. To this rule there are two notable exceptions, the birthdays of the Blessed Virgin Mary and of St. John the Baptist. All other persons were stained with original sin at birth, and hence, were displeasing to God. But Mary, was, from the moment of her conception, free from original sin (for which reason even her very conception is commemorated by a special feast). John was cleansed of original sin in the womb of his mother. When Mary visited Elizabeth, John recognized the presence of Jesus in Mary’s womb and leaped for joy (Luke 1:41). This is the dogmatic justification for today’s feast.
*PARALLEL AND CONTRAST BETWEEN JOHN AND JESUS IN LUKE’S INFANCY NARRATIVES.*
Both births are miraculous. John was born of his aged parents and Jesus from a virgin. The coming births of both were announced by the angel: John’s in the Holy of Holies in the Temple and Jesus’ in a village house. The mission of John was to be the forerunner of the Messiah and the mission of Jesus was to be the saving Messiah. Luke highlights the greatness of Jesus and the subsidiary position of John as the precursor of the Messiah and the herald of God’s coming kingdom.
*THE UNIQUESNESS OF THEIR BIRTHS*
There is something unique about the birth of Isaac, Samuel and John. They were not only male children but the only child of their parents. They were miraclous children because God used then to answer the prayers of their mothers viz; Sarah, Hannah and Elizabeth whom people thought and mocked as barren women. Their birth especially that of Isaac and John broke the biological laws of nature because they were born when their mothers were already in their old age, thus reminding us that nothing is impossible to God who alone can bend the laws of the natural order because He made them.
These three great sons were destined for great accomplishments in Israel’s history and there births charted a new path in the History of Israel. God used Isaac to perpetuate the Abrahamic lineage thus fulfilling the promise He made to Abraham. Samuel was chosen by God to be a prophet who will anoint the kings of Israel as Israel transitioned from Judges to the rule of kings. John’s birth too, ushered a new era in salvation History. He prepared Israel for the coming of the long expected Messiah. He was the last prophet of the old testament.
*There is something unique too, about their names* . Isaac’s name means “he will laugh”, reflecting when Sarah laughed in disbelief when told that she would have a child, just like Zachariah John’s father doubted the angels message that he will have a son and was kept mute until his naming ceremony. Samuel’s name means name of God; asked of God; or heard by God. Coming to that of John his name in Hebrew is Jehohanan, which means “God’s gift” or “God is gracious.”( Onyinyechi or Chidiamara in Igbo) It was the name which God had commanded the child be given, and it described the parents’ gratitude for this unexpected joy. These serves to remind us that there is something in a name and naming of a child should not be arbitrarily given out of sentiments or imitation. Names has a lot to do about the circumstances surrounding the birth of a person. Some may say, that the name of a person influences the persons lifestyle or behaviour while I may not argue about this, I strongly recommend we give our children Christian names at Baptism in whatever language one choses to give the name. God changed some names in the OT whenever he choses a person to accomplish a specific mission.Have you wondered why God changed these names; Abram to Abraham, sarai to Serah , Jacob to Isreal etc.Iam convinced there is something significant about the names we bear. Choose carefully.
The miraculous birth of John to the elderly parents, the miraculous healing received by Zechariah and his prophetic hymn about the mission of his son prompted the people gathered there to ask the question, “What will this child turn out to be?” Gini ka nwata a ga abu?. Indeed a great Prophet of God who will dedicate his life to his mission of preparing a way for the one mightier than himself.
*DO YOU STILL DOUBT?*
Sarah and Zechariah doubted God. We too often are beclouded by the darkness of doubts that often blinds us from seeing through the eyes of faith, the promises God has in store for us. Are you still doubting God in your own case? Do you want to be compelled by something great as in Zachariah’s case for you to believe?. Remember it is the same God still working wonders even in our time. Are you mocked because of barrenness or some other misfortune in your life?, my dear never you give up on God because He does not give up on you. Those who mock you shall someday see the goodness of God in your life and will come back and say we are sorry. God will turn things around for you, just be patient and wait on Him.
We should not take our small misfortunes as big tragedies. We should imitate Zechariah who remained optimistic, continuing in prayer and Temple service. 2) We need to ask God’s help to get rid of the barrenness of our heart, cleanse it daily, liberate it from evil attachments and prepare it for the rebirth of Jesus. 3) We need to be good parents and grandparents, offering incessant prayers for our children and grandchildren.
*ACCEPT EVERY CHILD AS A GIFT FROM GOD.*
Just like the Igbos’s of Eastern Nigeria, the birth of a male child was an occasion of great joy among the Jews. So at John’s birth, Zechariah’ s neighbours and relatives and local musicians gathered at the courtyard to celebrate the occasion. At the announcement of John’s birth there was great rejoicing and the musicians broke into music and songs. In Elizabeth’s house there was a double joy because at last she had a child in her old age and because that child was a son. I know that many families who need a child would rather prefer a son to a daughter. Many families in a bid to have a male child, exceeded the reasonable number of children they could comfortably take care of. Many in their desperation has aborted female children, or even abused those who where born. I remember the story of a man who abandoned his wife in the Hospital because she gave birth to another baby girl ( the 5th one). What is the fate of such a baby girl? isn’t he man’s attitude barbaric. In as much as Isaac, Samuel, John and even Jesus were all sons, we should not forget that it took God fearing , devoted, blessed and faithful women like Sarah , Hannah , Elizabeth and Mary to bring them forth. Therefore I don’t see any justification in humiliating female children or counting them as nothing. It is a great sin to reject or disown a child given to you by God. Whether a son or a daughter, a child is a gift from God. Joachim and Ann parent of our blessed mother Mary were blessed only with a daughter Mary who is the most blessed among women. So your own daughter/s could also be great if you love and cherish her/them.
The first reading From the prophecy of Isaiah ( Is 49:1-6: 49:1), expresses important aspects of John’s career as a prophet to God’s people and a light to the nations. At the same time his status as servant makes him subordinate to Jesus. The author wrote these verses during the final days of the Babylonian exile. Christians understand this as a Messianic prophecy where the Servant is Christ.
The second reading from the Acts of the Apostles 13:22-26, is part of a speech given by Paul in a synagogue in Pisidian Antioch. The passage, describing the mission of John the Baptist and telling of his pivotal role in salvation history, won a place in the Gospel proclamation of the early Christians. In the passage, John the Baptist in all humility publicly acknowledged that his role was only that of a herald for the Messiah. As such, he had the task of preparing Israel to receive the Messiah by inviting them to receive the baptism of repentance.
The Gospel described the birth, the circumcision and naming ceremony of John the Baptist.
As we celebrate the nativity of John the Baptist Let us imitate his humility in witnessing to Christ and acknowledging that we are not the Christ but mere servants and children. Let us imitate his sincerity in preaching the message in its purity without any adulteration. Let us imitate his ascetic disposition in living a detached life in the midst of materialistic distractions of life. *Remember it is not the circumstances of ones birth that defines who a person will be, but cooperation with God’s grace. Neither John nor Mary was born into royalty but their cooperation with God’s grace through their dedication to doing God’s will made them outstanding and noble.*
May we become forerunners of Christ in the world, and dedicate our lives in His service. May God increase in our lives while we decrease in pride, so as to increase in his grace.
I keep you and your family always in my prayers.
Fr. C.C. Aladi.