The birthday of John the Baptist has special significance for the Church. Ordinarily the Church observes the day of a saint’s death as his feast, because that day marks his entrance into heaven. But John’s birth is important. He’s the ‘bridge’ between the Old Testament and the New. With his arrival the work of the prophets foretelling the coming of Christ is completed. John declares that the new and glorious final era for human history has begun.
Luke tells us of the birth of John the Baptist in a town of Judaea, about six months before the birth of the Saviour. The encounter between the cousins Jesus and John while still in the wombs of their respective mothers, Mary and Elizabeth, is moving and inspirational.
The New Testament tells us nothing of John’s early years, but we know that his pious, virtuous parents must have reared the boy with care, conscious always of the important work to which he was appointed and imbuing him with a sense of his destiny.
When John began final preparations for his mission, he was probably in his thirty-second year. He withdrew into the harsh, rocky desert beyond the Jordan to fast and pray, as was the ancient custom of holy men. When he came back to start preaching in the villages of Judaea, he was haggard and uncouth, but his eyes burned with zeal and his voice carried deep conviction.
The Jews were accustomed to preachers and prophets who gave no thought to outward appearances, and they accepted John at once; the times were troubled, and the people yearned for reassurance and comfort.
“Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand,”-this was John’s oft-repeated theme. For the evils of the times his remedy was personal purification. “Every tree,” he said, “that is not bringing forth good fruit is to be cut down and thrown into the fire.”
St John the Baptist is the patron saint of our diocese. We pray that he will guide Bishop Paul and the people of the diocese during this significant period in the life of our local church.
Father Simon Eccleton