A. The Bible as Guide in Life and Liturgy (Feast Day Readings)

B. Reflection & Dialogue: Among those born of woman no one has arisen greater than John

A. The Bible as Guide in Life and Liturgy (Feast Day Readings)

First Reading (Isaiah 49:1-6). I shall make you the light of the nations. This text in the Book of Isaiah is known as the Second Servant Song, and is specifically about the Servant’s mission. God tells this Servant that he has formed him in the womb to be his servant, to bring Israel back to him, and that Israel might be gathered to him. We are not told who in the mind of the author of the text this Servant was, and the question still remains uncertain. It might have been a purified and personified Israel, or group within Israel, the poet-prophet and author of the text himself, or some future person yet to arise. In any event what is said of the Servant here, and his mission, ideally suits the birth of John as foretold by the angel Gabriel in the Temple: He will go before the Lord, to turn the hearts of parents to their children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous, to make ready a people prepared for the Lord (Luke 1:17). It is thus ideally chosen as a reading for today’s celebration.

Responsorial Psalm (Psalm 138[139]). I thank you for the wonder of my being.

Second Reading (Acts of the Apostles 13:22-26). Jesus whose coming was heralded by John. This is part of Paul’s lengthy sermon to Jews and God-fearers at the synagogue of Antioch of Pisidia. He goes briefly through the history of Israel, and on speaking of Jesus’ ministry does not fail to state that his coming was heralded by John when he preached repentance. All New Testament texts, the four Gospels and other references, begin the account of Jesus’ public ministry and the fulfilment of the promises with the Baptist’s ministry.

Gospel (Luke 1:57-66, 80). His name is John. This is the Gospel account of the birth of John, to be later known as John the Baptist. His birth was foretold to his father Zechariah in the Temple, when he was told to name his son John. In the Old Testament, agents of God’s work were often said to have been empowered by the Spirit, to enable them to do their work. John was chosen before his birth for a mission, and the angel said that even before his birth he would be filled with the Holy Spirit. His would be no temporary mission, but one exceeded only by that of Jesus. Because Zechariah doubted the angel’s words, the angel said to him that he would be unable to speak until the child’s birth (Luke 1:8-20). This ended with the birth of the child whom his father had called John. The rejoicing foretold by the angel took place, and those present were made aware that a great event had taken place. The passage ends with a note that the hand of the Lord was with the child, and that he lived an ascetical life in the wilderness until he began his mission to Israel.

Reflection & Dialogue: Among those born of woman no one has arisen greater than John
The Church only celebrates saints’ days, and for this reason generally only the deaths of saints. Apart from Jesus and Mary the only birth celebrated is that of John the Baptist, filled with the Holy Spirit from his mother’s womb. John’s preaching and baptism for repentance became well known in Israel, in Judah and surrounding areas. The Jewish historian Josephus mentions it. Because of his success John was believed by some as possibly the Messiah. This John emphatically denied. The One yet to Come would be mightier that himself. But John had to live with the mystery that was Jesus, and on learning of Jesus’ friendly attitude towards sinners had is doubts and send messengers to Jesus on this matter. Jesus’ reply for John through the messengers was that the prophecies also foretold mercy through the Christ. It gave Jesus an opportunity to speak of the person and place of John in the divine plan of salvation. John was a prophet and more than a prophet. Among those born of woman no one has arisen greater than John. John death as a martyr is commemorated annually on 29 August. John’s voice, as forerunner to Christ, is still heard in the Church’s liturgy in the Gospel readings for the second and third Sundays of Advent each year, calling attention to Christ’s coming at Christmas.

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