How will you observe the Feast of the Nativity of John the Baptist, a.k.a. his birthday?
Bake a locust and honey cake. I hear it’s delicious. John the Baptist thought so.
Go to work dressed like John the Baptist. Camel’s hair may not be summer attire, but it will be sure to spur conversation.
Read the scriptures chosen for his feast day. Here they are:
Give thanks for someone in your life who points to Christ, to grace and love breaking into the world.
Think about how this day you will point beyond yourself to Christ in the world.
What’s your point?
Today, June 25th, the church observes the Feast of the Nativity of John the Baptist, one of the most eccentric characters in the Bible. And that’s saying something because there are a lot of eccentric characters in the Bible. Happy birthday, John!
We celebrate his birthday right near the summer solstice, the longest day of the year. In contrast, we celebrate the birth of Jesus when days are the shortest. I’ve been told that is not accidental. It’s a way for the calendar to preach, reflecting a story told in the Gospel of John. This may only be of interest to church geeks, but here’s the story:
People came to John the Baptist and asked about his relationship with Jesus. There’s some sense that people wondered if John was the one they should follow. Maybe John was the long awaited messiah. In response to the question, John does what he always does. He points beyond himself to Christ. He has this to say about Jesus: He must increase, but I must decrease. (John 3:30)
The calendar acts that out in this simple way. The days that follow John’s birth shorten in length, while the days which follow Jesus’ birth lengthen. I can’t vouch that this is true. They did not consult me in calendar composition. But if it isn’t true, it ought to be. And it makes it worth our while to consider what John’s example means for us this Monday morning.
At one point in the gospels, Jesus described John the Baptist as the greatest person ever born. He doesn’t say that kind of thing about many people. Most of the disciples were quite often knuckleheads. So I’ve wondered what was so great about John the Baptist.
Let me venture this answer. John, a person of remarkable gifts and magnetism, knew who he was and knew who Jesus was. And he knew those two things should not be confused. He was no shrinking violet and he had a powerful ministry. A lot of ego strength for sure, willing to take on the political and religious authorities. It eventually cost him his head.
But he also knew that there was a power, a presence greater than himself. He chose to have his ministry be one of witness and service, preparing the way of Lord, pointing beyond himself to Jesus, to God present among us, and especially present in the suffering of the world.
In the history of Christian art, John the Baptist is often depicted with arm extended, index finger pointing towards Christ, often to Christ on the cross. With that depiction, John the Baptist becomes spiritual coach for each one of us, inviting us to figure out how to do the same. How will our lives point beyond ourselves to God’s presence in the world, meeting the suffering of the world? Asked another way: What’s our point?
Use John the Baptist’s birthday to reflect on your own life. To what does your life point? What might you do this Monday that would direct someone’s attention, maybe someone’s affection towards Christ? Asked another way, where can you point to grace breaking into the world?
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