Dear Followers of Jesus,
Today, the Church celebrates the birth of John the Baptist. This is one of the feasts during the year when the Church becomes very literal. John was six months older than Jesus. So his “birthday” is in June one-day prior to Jesus’ “birthday” of December 25. These dates most likely are not the true dates of birth for either John or Jesus. The Church only celebrates the human birth of Mary, John the Baptist and Jesus. The Church usually celebrates the death of the followers of Jesus because human death is entry into the Kingdom of God. So, if today we celebrate John’s birth, he is of course extremely close to the message of Jesus and his life of opening our earthly existence into the glory of heaven.
The birthday of John the Baptist shows us the work of the Holy Spirit to prepare us for the coming of Christ in the Incarnation. In today’s gospel, Luke 1:57-66, Elizabeth and Zachariah, the parents of John, teach us the beauty of the Holy Spirit’s presence. The birth of this boy in their tradition was to be named after his father. Instead, Elizabeth speaks out at John’s circumcision that his name is “John.” How beautiful this story is while we wait for the person whom John was born to teach us about, Jesus Christ himself.
John the Baptist is one of my favorite people in the gospels. There are many reasons for such devotion. Even in the womb, John leapt for joy while in the presence of Jesus, recognizing his cousin who was also in womb. The Holy Spirit destined this man to be the forerunner of Jesus, to show us all that the presence of the Kingdom rests in Jesus alone.
In traditional iconography of the saints, John the Baptist, as a child is seen next to Mary and Jesus while they fled from King Herod into Egypt. Even as a child, the image of John shows us the focus of our faith, the fidelity of Jesus in our earthly lives. John as a child, from the very beginning, reveals the love, the healing and the redemption of his cousin Jesus. He spends his entire life pointing into the direction of Jesus, into the direction of the Kingdom of Heaven from our earthly existence.
In my own prayer life, I love the image of John pointing toward Jesus. Also within the history of painting and iconography, John’s posture in these paintings tells us that the focus is not on himself, but on the person of Christ Jesus. John’s finger literally points away from himself into the direction of Jesus, into the direction of hope and healing in God, into the direction of the coming of the Kingdom of Heaven.
My painting this week of John the Baptist for his bulletin cover shows half the face of this saint. His intensity is revealed only partially. This is to suggest that John is living both on earth and in heaven. His focus shows us that his life is split between this earthly mission and his real heavenly home. The painting is a reminder for us all that we are to live with such a focus, splitting our lives from the intensity of our human concerns and longing within our hearts to live in heavenly peace and freedom. John points us into the direction of our salvation. I pray we all may heed such an invitation. May grace come and this world pass away.