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RELIGION LITURGY AND LIFE

THE FEASTDAY OF SAINT JOHN THE BAPTIST

JOHN THE BAPTIST

 Birthdays are a special time to remember and give thanks for the blessings that have come our way in our lives family, friends faith or whatever. In many churches of the East and West the birth of John the Baptist is remembered on this day. St Augustine points out that The Church observes the birth of John as in some way sacred; and you will not find any other of the great men of old whose birth we celebrate officially. We celebrate John’s, as we celebrate Christ’s. Augustine also points out that this point cannot be passed over in silence, and  he states if I may not perhaps be able to explain it in the way that such an important matter deserves, it is still worth thinking about it a little more deeply and fruitfully than usual. So in the spirit of St Augustine let us stop for a moment to think about this feast a little more deeply

John was born of an old woman who is barren; Christ was born of a young virgin woman. That John will be born was not believed, and his father is struck dumb; that Christ will be born was believed, and he is conceived by faith.  The Gospel of this day recalls that great figure: John the Baptist.  We hear in our gospel that Zachariah regained his speech when they came to name the child John. John’s task was to announce the coming of Jesus and to point to him when he came.

John’s work was extraordinary.  He was called to reawaken a sense of expectation among a people that had grown tired and distant from God as many have done in our present generation.   John was called to bring renewal to institutional expressions of religion which, at the time, had so often become fossilised into mere formulae or external ritual.  He attracted thousands to come out into the desert to see him. Tradition sees the desert as the place where God speaks to the heart of his people. It is from this solitary place of spiritual combat, the desert bordering the Jordan, that John appears “with the spirit and the power of Elijah” (Luke 7:17). By his word and his baptism with water, he must call the children of the covenant back to the Lord their God as he calls us today to come back to the Lord our God.

John was a man who stood out. His strange dress the wild camel hair shirt and the leather girdle   was not chosen as a publicity gimmick or a trademark as many things today are chosen because they are a trademark and gimmicky.  His message was one that spoke of rising above conventional ways of thinking, conventional expectations and attitudes.  He shunned the external amenities of a comfortable life because he wanted to show his absolute dependence on God.  His detachment from life’s comforts gave him the freedom to truly recognise the message of Jesus and who he was the Son of God. John is not only the fiery preacher of judgement  He also appears as the friend who leads the bride to the bridegroom and then withdraws. He relentlessly directs hearts and minds OUR hearts and minds toward Jesus. Then he seeks to decrease so that the Jesus may increase. Thus is the servant conformed to his master.

The figure of John serves as a warning to us today, to all believers, to the Church and to Church organisations of every age of our need to draw our strength from Christ alone, rather than identifying with the cultural patterns or the Fads and fashions of the time, which in any case come and go.The Church is here to proclaim and live out the message of Jesus in every generation in season and out of season whether people at large like it or not. It is not there in any way to be inward looking.  The Church that is the people of god, you and I  are called to constant renewal, to tear ourselves away from conventional expectations, attitudes and superficialities and centre ourselves completely on God.  The Church in every age must become like John the Baptist, an uncomfortable reminder of how we must allow the truth of Jesus to break into our lives to enlighten the darkness that can at any moment enter into our lives or the life of the Church.

The Christian message always has the ability to fascinate and challenge everyone in every age. It calls on all of us to interpret correctly the meaning of Christ’s coming for our lives and for the society in which we live. Young and old that is all of us one and all need to hear Christ’s message in its clarity with all its demands and challenges. We need to see that the true foundation of the meaning and the hope we have comes in its entirety from the message of Jesus: of whom john said “He is the one”. Like John the Baptist, the Lord invites each of us to make our life a free-will offering to God. God wants to fill us with his glory all the days of our lives, from birth through death. Today then let us renew the offering of ourselves and our lives to God and give him thanks for his mercy and favour towards us as we celebrate the birthday of John the Baptist

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