John’s Nativity


Whenever two parishes merge, they never take one parish and move into another. One does not close and simply move into another. A priest explained this once. When two parishes become one they first both must close, and then they all begin as one. In a sense both must die, and then a new parish is reborn. It follows the steps of baptism, first a death and then life. This came to mind during the feast of the Nativity of John the Baptist.

 So much of Johns Nativity story mirrors Christ’s. Similar, yet also a definite contrast. With John comes the closing if a covenant, so that a new covenant might be born. Both are announced by an angel. With the Annunciation, Mary responds with the Magnificat. With Zachariah, he becomes mute. He is silenced until the herald of a New Testament is born. Then a Canticle. “Blessed be the LORD, the God of Israel, He has come to His people to set them free…” In the birth of John, his name does not come from his father or grandfather, as was the tradition. The new tradition begins with a name given by an angel. Yohanan, John, means to quicken or make alive. John is to prepare a path for something new. Jesus. 

Even in Elizabeth, making way for something new is apparent. Elizabeth and Zachariah are old, and Elizabeth is past her childbearing years. They are childless, and she is barren. The natural expectation is a dying, and the cultural connotation is one of sin. There is no expectation of the miraculous vibrancy that is about to begin. A sadness that concludes with a joyous hope. John joyously leaps in the womb of Elizabeth at the visitation. An omen of things to come. One must decrease, so another might increase. One closes, the other opens.


drifting towards the third Sunday


I misplaced something, a few notes that I had written. I didn’t really misplace them, I lost them by overwriting them. It’s a problem of the digital age.

In that little note I was comparing Jesus’s asking that a boat be made ready for him to His forming of the Church. Mk 3:7-12 I looked back to Moses in a basket among the reeds and declared that basket was a boat. I mentioned Noah and his ark, again a boat. Both I said were for protection and that commonly is what scriptural boats are for. With Jesus I pondered His boat was for protection from the varied crowd and their opinions. He did not want the crowd, the world to suffocate him or to drown him out. A boat not so much for His protection but to guard His Word. The boat became an ark, as the Ark of the Covenant and then the tent, and then temple to synagogue to Church. Jesus knew the need for that boat. It gives the Word of the LORD safe passage.

A large number of people followed from Galilee and from Judea.
Hearing what he was doing,
a large number of people came to him also from Jerusalem,
from Idumea, from beyond the Jordan,
and from the neighborhood of Tyre and Sidon.
He told his disciples to have a boat ready for him because of the crowd,
so that they would not crush him.

What that writing was overwritten with was a small note on the picking of the Apostles. Mk 3:13-19 Briefly that passage acknowledged the need for an apostolic leadership, while also acknowledging all are called to priesthood. It rambled on the ordained and the lay-priest. Both have their role in Christ’s Church. The emphasis was on Christ’s initiation of a priesthood early in His ministry. While all apostles are disciples, not all disciples are Apostles. Now drift towards today.

Jesus went up the mountain and summoned those whom he wanted
and they came to him.
He appointed Twelve, whom he also named Apostles,
that they might be with him
and he might send them forth to preach

In today’s reading Mt 4:12-17 Jesus again is calling Apostles but there are a few details added. To start the passage begins with the arrest of John the Baptist. John had preached that he must decrease and Jesus increase. John’s ministry ends with his beheading. It ends. Jesus now begins. The second part is that Jesus goes to Capernaum by the Sea of Galilee. He doesn’t head south to Jerusalem, he goes north. He does not go to the center of Judaism, he goes to the fringe where it mixes with the Gentiles. There he declares the Kingdom of heaven is at hand. In that passage is mention of a great light in the darkness, the light which is Jesus the Christ. With that introduction Jesus chooses his Apostles.

When Jesus heard that John had been arrested,
he withdrew to Galilee.
He left Nazareth and went to live in Capernaum by the sea,
in the region of Zebulun and Naphtali,
that what had been said through Isaiah the prophet
might be fulfilled

From these readings, there are a few things that can be extracted or interpolated. First the boat and the Church, Jesus had always traveled among a group. He often traveled with them by boat, and a boat scripturaly is a Church. Is it difficult to see Jesus amongst His Church from the beginning of His Ministry? Is it difficult to see Jesus among His Church at the Nativity? Is Jesus ever separated from His Church? I think not.

John the Baptist was a voice in the wilderness, a solitary voice. Jesus is always amongst the flock, his Church. Jesus from the beginning sees the need for a priesthood and begins His ministry with choosing those leaders. His Church is not formed after His ministry, it is put in place from the start. There is something else that can be gleaned from John the Baptist. John’s death dies not come from the Jewish faithful. It comes from a corrupt Herod. His death does not come from the saints of the covenant, it comes from the sinners that surround and intermingle with them. Jesus, from the beginning, does not go to the heart of Judea but goes to the fringe where the conflict lies. His ministry begins in the lands of the gentiles where life for God’s chosen people is most challenged. From the beginning Jesus reaches out to the sinner. These are the people so many had tried to avoid. Jesus brings the light to the darkness in a very deliberate way. No wonder it is referred to as Church militant.

In going to those fringes he reaches to the abandoned, the socially isolated, the prisoners, the sick both spiritually and bodily. He, through His Church, travels to the schools and the prisons and the hospital and the shelter and soup kitchen and the street corner reaching out to all that wander in darkness. Oddly, that did not grow out of His ministry but was part of its very beginning. From the beginning he argued in the synagogue and in the courts just as Christians do today. Jesus in His ministry does not stay among the polite but deliberately ventures  where many would not. That was the design of the Church from the beginning, bringing His light to all. That includes those that wander through the darkest places. That is the tradition of the Church..

Advent’s second Sunday


It is no great surprise that John the Baptist Mt 3:1-12 makes an apperance at the second Sunday of Advent, he is a true spokesman of the season. Advent, or Adventus for those who prefer Latin, means arrival. It is the Latin translation of the Greek Parousia which is the word used to describe the second coming of Christ. John the Baptist screams “make way for the Lord.” He prepares people for the Messiah. John also is firmly planted in the Old Testament and its traditions. He is the offspring of a Priest, and he is a prophet. His Baptism is one of repentance. His food and clothes signify his mission. He is a person to take notice of, and someone who delivers an important message. He is separate from society, yet calls out to society. He is a herald. His message of repentance and preparation was an important one for those that surrounded the Nativity of our Lord, his message is important for those that await the second coming of Christ today. Past and present.

John also speaks to the members of his community, and especially its prominent members. The Pharisees and the Sadducees were the cultural elite. The Sadducees came from the Temple of Jerusalem, the Pharisees an elite group from the Synagogue. The Sadducees had a narrow view of the covenantal relationship between God and man. They accepted only the first five books of the Old Testament and believed in neither Jewish oral tradition or any written tradition beyond the Pentateuch. They did not believe in eternal life, or in the punishment of sins after life. If one got away with something, they got away with it. Period. I wonder if they understood Johns baptism of repentance? I wonder if they could acknowledge or identify their sins? Theirs was a legalistic approach, black and white; and John certainly asked that they mend their ways with a change of mind and heart.

Justice shall flourish in his time, and fullness of peace for ever.
O God, with your judgment endow the king,
and with your justice, the king’s son;
he shall govern your people with justice
and your afflicted ones with judgment.

Those Pharisees formed those synagogues during the exile that the prophet Isaiah addresses. They differed from the Sadducees in that they did believe in life after death, and that there were repercussions for their actions. They were particular about avoiding sin, and those that had sinned. They thought few were chosen for entry into the Kingdom of God, and did everything they could to guard their entry ticket. The blind, the cripple, the infirm all incurred the wrath of God for their sins. The Pharisees avoided them at all costs. They did not fully understand Gods Love, and Mercy and Forgiveness. They had their faults along with their positive attributes. At the time one of their faults was that of using their knowledge of the covenant to build  a culture of Nationalism and that was a burden to many. Every one and every society has their faults or sins, then and now. The Sadducees had theirs, the Pharisees had theirs, and we have ours.

Both groups (Pharisees and Sadducees) held positions of high regard in their cultures, yet John refers to them as a “brood of vipers.” Vipers, snakes, the beast of another exile. John’s baptism does not simply wash away their sins, it demands that they take action. It calls them to repent, and to change their ways. They are not granted a privilege, they are given a mission. Their rank in society demands that they fulfill a duty, they are called to action. They are called to change in action and attitude, body and soul. They are called to recognize the LORDS presence, and to be obedient to that LORD. John’s message is simple “Repent for the kingdom of Heaven is at hand.”

John’s message of repentance is superimposed over Isaiah mention if the ‘Shoot of Jesse’ that is the sprout that emerges from destruction. Is 11:1-10  If John preaches repentance for the sake of the Kingdom of Heaven, Isaiah gives a description of that kingdom. That kingdom is described as Gods spirit resting upon them, an era where the lion lays next to the lamb and certainly an idyllic setting. If the description given by the prophet Isaiah were to be condensed into one word, that word would have to be Shalom which is the Jewish word of Peace. It is not the peace of man but that of God. It is not the absence of war and suffering and struggle, but more the absence of any thought of them. It is also harmony and a completeness. It is resting in God’s peace, and returning to obedience. An entry into the Kingdom of Heaven and stepping back into that garden of God man left so many years ago.

The Nativity of John the Baptist, new thoughts


This post is a continuation of the recycle from 2012.

Bookends, let me use that phrase. I am referring to the bookends of the Nativities of Jesus and John. Similar, and yet different, but in a way bookends. John, the conclusion of the Old Testament. Jesus, the beginning of the New.

These are short and quick thoughts, a continuation of a dialogue.

What is the thought? It’s not really a thought but an emotion. John “leapt” in his mother’s womb. The leap is a joyful and exuberant emotion. (the leap, he is sanctified, made holy.) It is not condemning and doom, it is positive. The emphasis is that this exchange at “the Visitation” is enthusiastic. The people of the Old Testament longed for the Messiah, and that one has arrived. A celebration, a birth, and not a funeral. I am focusing on the transition of Old versus New, and the nature of that transition. Joyful. Good News.

“Ah, Lord GOD!” I said,
“I know not how to speak; I am too young.”
But the LORD answered me,
Say not, “I am too young.”
To whomever I send you, you shall go;
whatever I command you, you shall speak.
Have no fear before them,
because I am with you to deliver you, says the LORD. Jer 1:4-10

With that thought l look at the birth of John. John is the last of the old prophets, and is also celebrated in the New Testament. John can be looked at as a historic figure, he was well known. He also can be looked at with a bit of poetic license. He is the prophet that leads one into the Jesus Narrative. Like Moses, he is the one that brings people into a new era. With John, the people are guided into a new experience. In a very philosophical sense that is his baptism, it brings people across a metaphysical red sea, from Moses to Jesus. Joyfully. The fulfillment of a promise. Something people have waited for.

That then is the bookends of which I speak. Those bookends mirrored in the Liturgy of the Hours. The Canticle of Zechariah, and the Magnificat. They speak of the dawn of a new day. (One more thing. Johns life is one of preparing for someone that follows in the future. Preparing for someone else. Philosophy, a way of life.)

For John the Baptist, on the feast of his nativity. A few things that I have learned regarding Catholic customs. On this day, John’s birthday, bonfires are frequently set ablaze. Bonfires? They produce light. Light as it lights the way, makes way for the Lord. They guide, and keep one from stumbling. That is something to remember. Near finally, Saint John’s Wort: a herb used to treat depression. Need I say more?

Nativity of John the Baptist


 A Recycled post from June 24, 2012

(Let me add a little note: I have not recycled posts before, but I have an inkling I shall continue this on a weekly basis. I have not come up with a clever name yet, nor decided on which day that recycling will occur.Finaly, there might be some “new material” surrounding the aged writing.)

No other prophet of the Old Testament is celebrated in the liturgical year other than John the Baptists. There is no feast day for Moses, or Elisha or Elijah or Isaiah. There are no prophets mentioned in the New Testament after John. In the New Testament the prophecy ends with John. The nativity of John and the nativity of Jesus too are curiously similar: Jesus born of a virgin, John of a barren elderly. Jesus’s annunciation is greeted with Mary’s Magnificat; the annunciation of John leaves Zechariah dumbfounded. It is only after John’s birth that Zachariah tongue is freed to proclaim his canticle to God. At the visitation John while still in Elizabeth’s womb, leaps for Joy at the arrival of Mary, pregnant with Jesus.

The joy at the nativity of John the Baptist is expressed in the Benedictus, the canticle of Zechariah sung at John’s birth. It opens “Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel, because he has come to his people and redeemed them. He has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David.” The savior Jesus the Christ is the reason John leapt for joy! This is the hope of the people of YHWH, and blessed be the Lord is a characteristic opening of Jewish prayer, it is a prayer of thanksgiving for the fulfillment of Israel’s promise of the Messiah, the redeemer of Israel: The promise of the throne of David fulfilled in Christ.

The canticle opens both Jewish and Christian in character. It continues “As he spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets, who are from the beginning: Salvation from our enemies and from the hand of all that hate us….” The canticle acknowledges the work of the prophets, the message of YHWH spoke of in the Old Testament. Zachariah’s song then turns to his own son John.” And you, my child, will be called a prophet of the Most High; for you will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for him, to give his people the knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins,”

This is the mission of John the Baptist, to prepare the way of the Lord Jesus the Christ. The voice of one crying in the wilderness, make way for the Lord! How fitting it is that the Liturgy of the Hours starts the day with Zachariah’s Benedictus and ends with Mary’s Magnificat. The song at the beginning of the day announces John’s role, a herald who prepares YHWHS people for the Lord; and the Magnificat, Mary’s song at the announcement of the arrival of that Lord, Jesus the Christ.