“Among those born of women no one is greater than John” (Lke 7:28). These words which Jesus said about John the Baptist are the reason why we celebrate the Feast of the Birthday John the Baptist. As a rule, the church celebrates the feast of a saint once a year, on the anniversary of the saint’s death. This is the day he or she is born in heaven. In the case of John the Baptist we celebrate both his death & his birth. John is the only saint after Christ whose birth we celebrate with a solemn feast.
Our gospel this morning focuses on the naming ceremony. Why? We tend to ask Juliet’s famous question to Romeo in Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, “What’s in a name? A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” But not everybody would agree with this view.
In biblical times and even today in some places, personal names function the way company or business names do. They tell us what the bearer of the name stands for. We know that we go to Body Works to work on our body or Creager Tires for repairs and replacements. Biblical names often reveal an essential character or destiny of a person. When Simon shows that he could be relied on as a leader of the apostles, he gets the name “Rock.” The name “John” means “God is gracious” or “God shows his favor.”
The birthday of John Baptist relates to the birth of Jesus. The Church chose the time of the winter solstice to celebrate the birth of Jesus because from that time the days grow longer as daylight increases. The Church selected the time of the summer solstice to celebrate the birth of the Baptist because from this time the days gradually grow shorter as daylight diminishes. This reminds us of words of the Baptist in speaking of Jesus, “He must increase while I must decrease.”
Here’s the deal. Just as God had a plan for Saint John the Baptist, God has a plan for you. Mark Twain wrote, “The two most important days of your life are the day you were born and the day you find out why.” Saint Luke tells us that the people at the time of Zechariah and Elizabeth said of John, “The hand of the Lord was with him.”
If each of us were to receive a new name from God or other people, a name that represents our God-given identity and calling in life, what would that name be? Man of God, Woman of Prayer, Gift of Hospitality, Proclaimer of God’s Word, Bringer of the Eucharist, Sharer of the Light of Christ, Consoler or Comforter, Joyful Noisemaker. If you do not know your God-given gift, then it is time to find out by listening in prayer and by asking others.