When the time arrived for Elizabeth to have her child she gave birth to a son. Her neighbors and relatives heard that the Lord had shown his great mercy toward her, and they rejoiced with her. When they came on the eighth day to circumcise the child, they were going to call him Zechariah after his father, but his mother said in reply, “No. He will be called John.” But they answered her, “There is no one among your relatives who has this name.” So they made signs, asking his father what he wished him to be called. He asked for a tablet and wrote, “John is his name,” and all were amazed. Immediately his mouth was opened, his tongue freed, and he spoke blessing God. Then fear came upon all their neighbors, and all these matters were discussed throughout the hill country of Judea. All who heard these things took them to heart, saying, “What, then, will this child be?” For surely the hand of the Lord was with him. The child grew and became strong in spirit, and he was in the desert until the day of his manifestation to Israel.( Luke 1:57-66, 80)
The Orthodox churches around the world reserve this day to celebrate the birth of John the Baptist. We call him the Baptist. Eastern Christians call him the Forerunner.
While only Luke’s gospel tells us of the marvelous circumstances surrounding his birth, each of the four gospels tells us of his essential work in preparing the way for Jesus. And well he did . . . to the point of diminishing himself. And John found joy in this. “My joy is now full. He must increase and I must decrease.”
John the Baptist was joyful because he was humble. In fact, he shows us the true nature of this virtue. Humility is not beating up on yourself, denying that you have any gifts, talents, or importance. The humble person does not sheepishly look down on himself. Actually, he does not look at himself at all. He looks away from himself to the Lord.
At one time or another, every human being battles a nagging sense of inadequacy. Pride is sin’s approach to dealing with this. Proud people are preoccupied with self, seeing all others as competitors. The proud perpetually exalt themselves over others in hopes that this will provide a sense of worth and inner peace. Of course, it doesn’t. Human history has proven that time and time again. Pride always comes before the fall, as it did in the Garden of Eden.
Recognizing that our dignity and self-worth is a gift from God relieves us from this stressful burden. Freed from the blinding compulsion to dominate, we can feel a sense of satisfaction when others recognize that God is God and honor him as such. We can even be free to recognize God in someone else and rejoice when others notice and honor God’s goodness this person.
Each of us bears another name . . . Christian.. At baptism, you were also signed with the name of the Holy Trinity, and so God’s name is upon you. God has therefore claimed you for His own and desires to bless you as His child. For if God has given you His name, then He has made you a member of His holy family.
You have a choice every day of whether or not to accept that holy and awesome name. Every time that you believe and obey God, you are accepting His naming and claiming of you. Each time we act in His spirit, we are increasing His name and honoring ours.
Prayer of The Day
“Lord, I thank You for choosing me before the foundation of the world and claiming me as Your own. I thank You for giving me Your name and making me a part of Your family. Help me to honor Your name by believing You when You speak and obeying when You command.”
As we look around our communities, nations, and world, we see the manifold ways that God could use us to announce the good news and to call out injustice in our midst. At times it may appear that our work on behalf of the Kingdom is futile or hopeless. This is something Isaiah acknowledges when he reflects: “Though I thought I had toiled in vain, and for nothing, uselessly, spent my strength, yet my reward is with the Lord, my recompense is with my God.” John, too, might be considered a failure by worldly standards, someone imprisoned by the state and executed out of jealousy and insecurity. Yet, as Jesus Christ has made clear, death does not have the last word for those who sincerely pursue the path of holiness God has placed before all of us. Though the challenges may be great and the struggle for justice real, the “hand of the Lord” is with us as much as it was with John in the desert.