The Readings for Solemnity of the Nativity of St John Baptist
As John was finishing his course, he said, ‘What do you suppose that I am? I am not he. No, but after me one is coming, the sandals of whose feet I am not worthy to untie.’
There are many “bonfire nights” in the Irish and English cultural landscape moving through the year from Midsummer to Midwinter. The next ones for the North of Ireland are on the 12th of July for Loyalist communities and 8th of August for Nationalist communities. There is Guy Fawkes night. And Christmas bonfires as well. But last night was also one, the eve of St John’s Day. These fires collectively mark the beginning of the “dark half of the year”. The pagans used to celebrate Midsummer with bonfires on the 21st. But they moved it over to the night of the 24th to mark the passing of time in sync with this Roman and Christian invention, the Fixed Calendar. And these fires teach us a lesson, for John’s birth is celebrated as the light begins to decrease. This symbolizes his whole purpose: to pass away. John’s purpose is to point to the real and eternal light… and just as his decreasing light passes away at the Midwinter, lo, the Christ is born. And real, eternal Light begins to grow. So the Church blesses the bonfires that mark a passing moment and show eternal truth.
This is us. This mission of St John to decrease is also our mission. As we finish our course we point to Jesus. This passing through the dark half of the year is our Christian witness in this world of Darkness, punctuated by the fires of martyrdom and sacrificial love. Christians don’t count terrestrial birthdays, properly, but heavenly ones. My Saints’ days are way more important than my birthday and each one of those is actually the day the saint dies… is born into heaven. We must decrease until Christ is all in all.
St John’s whole mission was to pass away after pointing to Jesus and naming him the Bridegroom of Israel, the Lamb of God, just as the Best Man is only there to witness the wedding and maybe to sign a document or two. Our whole mission is to point others to Jesus in exactly the same way. Our state in life may be different in that not all of us are monastics, not all of us are priests, but all of us are called to be Christians, that is, Little Christs. We are all to sacrifice ourselves in the continual outpouring of the Son to the Father, in the continual giving of the Father to the Son, in the continual pouring of the Holy Spirit on the World. We are both the vessels of reception and of consumption for what is poured in is poured out as well. We are filled with the wine of God’s love only to be consumed by our neighbors.
We stand aside so that others may encounter Christ. It is fashionable to say “encounter Christ in us” but it might be better said, “instead of us” for as certainly as we are sinners, it is Christ’s love that other’s feel when we love. It is Christ’s strength that others feel when we act. It is Jesus’ hands that intercede when we kneel in prayer for and rise in service of Neighbor. The Saints teach us to begin each encounter with another soul with a prayer that Christ will act… for we will certainly mess it up. Mindful of course, that any action is about the salvation of the human in front of us (which cannot but further our own salvation). We may think it’s a business deal or a phone call to customer service, or only a bank teller. But we are there as preachers, as little John the Baptists. If that mission fails it matters not if we get the contract or rob the bank.
St John decreases, so do we: that Christ may increase to all and in all until he is all in all and we are one with the Trinity in blessed love. Last night the wheel of the year turned just one more notch towards eternity and all of creation rejoiced. The longest day means the beginning of darkness. And St John’s Day means that Jesus is not far away.
Six months to Christmas and counting down…
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