Lord God, take my lips and speak through them; take our minds and think through them; take our hearts and set them on fire with love for you. Amen.
Some time ago I had the pleasure of preaching on the Solemnity of the Birth of John the Baptist, so it is quite fitting that today I preach on the memorial of his passing from this life.
The recounting of the life and mission John the Baptist recorded in scripture is one that many of us are familiar with. In fact if you were anything like me as a kid in Sunday School one of the best remember stories may just be John’s death. As a child I remember the tale of the prophet whose head was served on a platter to a pretty young girl; that kind of thing sticks with you when you were a kid. However, to focus on this gruesome death at the hand of some rather immoral and vindictive people isn’t what we should focus our remembrances of John the Baptist on.
John is an interesting character in the life of the Church; he is one of only two saints whose principal feast does not take place at their death (their birth as Saints) but instead their birth. The other saint so honoured in the Blessed Virgin. This fact should cement in our minds just how important St. John is in the economy of salvation. So why is John the Baptist so important and what message does his death hold for us?
If we were to take a wide angled look at the records of God’s dealings with humankind we would see that it is obviously split into two parts, just like our modern Bible. There is the Old Testament period after the fall when God no longer dealt directly with his creation but rather connected with Israel through a series of holy men called Prophets, and there is the New Testament where once more God walked upon the Earth and interacted with His creation directly. Standing directly in the middle of these two chapters of the “story of salvation” stands John the Baptist.
In the eyes of ancient Israel John stood like a prophet of old and many thought he may have been Elijah returned, however to those of us who accept that Christ is God dwelling in human flesh John was much more. John the Baptist was not merely a prophet bringing a message from God that we needed to repent, John was a herald that the penultimate events of the salvation of humankind were imminent. If we were to trace the Baptists story through the New Testament it would stand out clearly that he had been chosen for this end before he was born and he was certainly dedicated to the Lord’s service afterwards.
It was this dedication to the Lord and John the Baptists message of repentance and preparation for the coming Messiah that made him popular with Israel. John preached his message at a time when the people were praying for the Messiah to come and free them from the rule of the Romans and their puppet king Herod. With popularity amongst the people came an enmity between John and the ruling class; particularly Herod.
Herod was a man of great wealth and power and yet he feared the Baptist and his message; why was this? John’s life contrasted greatly with Herod’s, he lived in poverty, wore camel’s hair and lived a holy and aesthetic life. What John had that Herod did not was holiness and a closeness to the Lord. It was this holiness that Herod feared; he was man who had transgressed the laws of Israel and knew it; John pointed this out with the authority of one chosen by God and Herod feared this.
And it is here that we see the message for us to be found in John’s story. The wicked and the mighty have no real power over us. Wealth and power do not bring happiness or diminish fear, the only thing that can do that for us is living a life of holiness before the Lord. If we do this then he will shine upon us and bring us those holy things we desire most. Just as God brought Jesus to the waters of Baptism at the hands of John.
I want to encourage each and every one of us to follow John the Baptist’s example; we each need to find that mission that God is calling us to fulfil and in finding it tread a path of holiness before the Lord. If we do this then no evil can stand against us and no matter what trials we go through we can be guaranteed of a reward in the life to come just as Holy St. John is blessed with the presence of God in heaven.
Let us pray:
O God, who willed that Saint John the Baptist should go ahead of your Son both in his birth and in his death, grant that, as he died a Martyr for truth and justice, we, too, may fight hard for the confession of what you teach. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.