Today is the Feast of the Nativity of John the Baptist. John is often an overlooked and forgotten hero of the faith. We forget that Jesus declared that “among those born of women none is greater than John” (Luke 7:28). We forget that John was the forerunner of Christ, who prepared the way for His ministry. We forget that John was a great preacher of righteousness who would not compromise the truth. We forget that John was a martyr for the Lord.
Jesus said that the Law and the Prophets were in effect until John (Luke 16:16). John and his ministry were key turning points in sacred history. James Keifer, in his online calendar of Christian festivals and saints days, says this about the Nativity of John:
“Traditionally, the Birth of Jesus is celebrated on 25 December. That means that the Birth of John is celebrated six months earlier on 24 June. The appearance of Gabriel to Mary, being assumed to be nine months before the birth of Jesus, is celebrated on 25 March and called the Annunciation, and the appearance of Gabriel to Zechariah in the Temple is celebrated by the East Orthodox on 23 September. At least for Christians in the Northern Hemisphere, these dates embody a rich symbolism. (Note: Readers living in Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, southern South America, or elsewhere in the Southern Hemisphere, stop reading now!) John is the last voice of the Old Covenant, the close of the Age of Law. Jesus is the first voice of the New Covenant, the beginning of the Age of Grace. Accordingly, John is born to an elderly, barren woman, born when it is really too late for her to be having a child, while Jesus is born to a young virgin, born when it is really too early for her to be having a child. John is announced (and conceived) at the autumnal equinox, when the leaves are dying and falling from the trees. Jesus is announced (and conceived) at the vernal equinox, when the green buds are bursting forth on the trees and there are signs of new life everywhere. John is born when the days are longest, and from his birth on they grow steadily shorter. Jesus is born when the days are shortest, and from his birth on they grow steadily longer. John speaks truly when he says of Jesus, “He must increase, but I must decrease.’” (Source: http://elvis.rowan.edu/~kilroy/JEK/indexcal.html)
So let’s take a few moments today and remember John the Baptist. You may want to read about his birth in Luke 1:5-25, 57-80. Or you may want to study his ministry, found in greater or lesser length at the beginning of each of the four Gospels. Or maybe we should just pause and give God thanks for such a faithful man of God whose preaching still thunders down through the centuries, and whose legacy is felt even today.