Homily, Nativity of St. John the Baptist
Summer is officially here, and I hope you’ve been able to spend more time outside to enjoy the longer daylight, at least when it hasn’t been raining. Last Sunday, I got my first sunburn of the year on the back of my hands as I rode the 20 miles of the bike path. But it was just this past Thursday, June 21, that was actually the summer solstice in the Northern Hemisphere. On that day here in Sioux Falls, we had almost 15 and a half hours of daylight. But now from June 21 until December 21, daylight hours will be shortening again each day. Today, we celebrate the birthday of St. John the Baptist, the birthday of the one who said of Christ, “He must increase, and I must decrease.” And, of course, six months from now, we will celebrate Christmas and the birth of Jesus, just when daylight hours will begin to increase once more. John was not the light, but he came to bear witness to the light, to point out to us and to all Israel the Messiah, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, the Light coming into the world that enlightens everyone.
Later in the Gospel, Jesus will also bear witness about John. He says that there is no one born of woman who was greater than John the Baptist. John became the greatest of the prophets, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to prepare a people for the Lord, and to serve as a sort of bridge between the Old Testament and the New Testament. All the other prophets before him pointed to Jesus in various ways, through the things that they said, through hints and promises that pointed far into the future, but John is the one who was able to point with his own finger and say, “Behold, the Lamb of God.” This Man right in front of you, whom you can see and touch, upon whom I saw the Holy Spirit come down and remain, this One is the Messiah that the world has been waiting for. This One is the answer to all of our prayers, the answer to all of God’s promises, the Savior of the world. “I am not worthy to unfasten the sandals of His feet.”
John the Baptist was a great prophet, even the greatest of prophets, but Jesus also says that you and I, every baptized Christian is even greater than John the Baptist. Listen to the rest of what Jesus says: “Among those born of women, there is no one greater than John the Baptist, but even the least in the kingdom of God is greater than John” (Cf. Lk. 7:28; Mt. 11:11). What does this mean? John was born naturally of a woman, from his mother Elizabeth. But those who enter the kingdom of God are born again, supernaturally, through water and the Holy Spirit, in the Sacrament of Baptism.
We become members of the Body of Christ, sons and daughters of the Most High God, sacred dwellings of the Holy Spirit in our own bodies. And we are called and able to be even greater prophets in our own day. To invite many others to share our Catholic faith, to invite them to Mass, to point with our own fingers to Jesus in the Holy Eucharist and say to every longing heart, “Behold, the Lamb of God. Behold him, who takes away the sins of the world.” To everyone who is tired, and bored, and frustrated with all that world offers them or what the world demands of them, we say with John the Baptist: Behold Jesus, your Savior, who takes away every burden and gives true life and freedom to all who are willing to follow Him.
In the scheme of things, our lives are very short, and they will have meaning and lasting value only insofar as we bear witness to Christ with our lives and strive to truly follow Him. “He must increase; I must decrease.” Heaven is everlasting, and hell is also everlasting. Which one are you choosing, by the decisions you make every day? As we celebrate the birthday of St. John the Baptist, let’s not ignore his central message. “Repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand.” Embrace Jesus Christ and His Catholic Church, so that by your truly Christian way of life, you may become prophets even greater than John the Baptist in our own day.