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Sunday:       The Nativity Of Saint John the Baptist
Date:         June 24, 2016.
Year:         C
The readings: [Is. 49:1-6; Acts 13:22-26; Lk. 1:57-66, 80]
The message:  He came to testify to the Light.
Prepared by:  Catholic Doors Ministry
Total words:  2068

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** The readings follow the sermon.

Welcome my friends in Jesus to today's celebration of the Holy Mass that commemorates the Feast of the Birth of Saint John the Baptist who was the forerunner of the arrival of the promised Messiah on earth.

Some of you may be wondering why the Catholic Church commemorates Saint John the Baptist in its Liturgical Calendar. What is so special about him? According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, "John the Baptist was more than a prophet. In him the Holy Spirit concludes His speaking through the prophets. He completes the cycle of prophets that began with Elijah. John came to bear witness to the Light. "He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain, this is he who baptized with the Holy Spirit. And I have seen and have born witness that this is the Son of God... Behold the Lamb of God." [Jn. 1:33-6] (C.C.C. # 719)

John the Baptist was the last of the prophets. Contrary to the claims of some other faiths, be it Mohammed or Joseph Smith, there were no more prophets after him. "St. Peter proclaimed the fulfillment of the prophetic texts in the morning of Pentecost." [Acts 2:16-21] (C.C.C. # 715)

"The patriarchs, prophets, and certain other Old Testament figures have been and always will be honoured as saints in all the Church's liturgical traditions." (C.C.C. # 61)

"Through the prophets, God forms His people in the hope of salvation, in the expectation of a new and everlasting Covenant intended for all, to be written on their hearts. [Is. 2:2-4; Jer. 31:31-4; Heb. 10:16] The prophets proclaim a radical redemption of the People of God, purification from all their infidelities, a salvation which will include all the nations. [Ezek. 26; Is. 49:5- 6, 53:11 24; Zeph. 2:3; Lk. 1:38] Above all, the poor and humble of the Lord will bear this hope." (C.C.C. # 64)

"In Israel, those consecrated to God for a mission that He gave were anointed in His Name. This was the case for kings, for priests and, in rare instances, for prophets. This had to be the case all the more so for the Messiah whom God would send to inaugurate His kingdom definitively. It was necessary that the Messiah be anointed by the Spirit of the Lord at once as king and priest, and also as prophet. Jesus fulfilled the messianic hope of Israel in His threefold office of Priest, Prophet, and King. (C.C.C. # 436)

During today's First Reading from the Book of Isaiah, [Is. 49:1-6] we heard the words, "Before I was born, while I was in my mother's womb He named me." [Is. 49:1] This passage from the Holy Scriptures reveals to us that before we were born, God had chosen our vocation, be it to the Sacrament of the Holy Orders, the religious or single life or the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony. This truth is seen in the life of the Prophet Jeremiah [Jer. 1:5], in the life of John the Baptist [Lk. 1:15], in the life of Jesus [Lk. 1:31] and in the life of Saint Paul. [Gal. 1:15]

Continuing with the First Reading, we heard the Words, "He made my mouth like a sharp sword." This means that when the prophets uttered the Word of God, it was as a sharp sword. The people paid attention. They heard the message of God. The Word of God is the Sword of the Holy Spirit. [Eph. 6:17] "Indeed the Word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged Sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit..." [Heb. 4:12; Rev. 1:16]

Next, the Lord said to Isaiah, "You are my Servant, Israel..." [Is. 49:3] From these words, it becomes clear that God was not speaking to Isaiah or of Jesus because of the word "Israel." God was speaking to the people of Israel. Their final destiny was for the righteous of Israel to be a light for the Gentiles and to bring salvation to the ends of the earth. This was not new knowledge that was being revealed! It was well known and part of the promise of God the Father to Abraham when He said,

"I will indeed bless you, and I will make your offspring as numerous as the stars of heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore. And your offspring shall possess the gate of their enemies, and by your offspring shall all the nations of the earth gain blessing for themselves, because you have obeyed my voice." [Gen. 22:17-8]

Yes, "all the nations" were called to gain their blessings through the Jewish nation. While this was God's original calling for His people, their desire for political greatness had obscured their original calling.

Next, we heard, "But I said, 'I have laboured in vain, I have spent my strength for nothing and vanity; yet surely my cause is with the Lord, and my reward with my God.'" [Is. 49:4] In these words, we hear the frustration of the Servant over what seems like a wasted ministry. How the worldly minded people quickly forget their blessings. This human weakness was also seen in St. John the Baptist. While in prison, he sent some of his followers to Jesus and asked, "Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?" [Mt. 11:3] In suffering, had he forgotten the words that He had spoken on the Jordan River? "Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world." [Jn. 1:19]

In our time of weakness, we are no different than John the Baptist. We doubt the Presence of God. We doubt the grace of God. We doubt the love of God. Nothing would satisfy us more than to have Jesus appear right in front of us to convince us that He is here, that His grace is with us and that He loves us. In moments when we are tired or sick, Satan uses these opportunities to place doubtful thoughts in our minds. Those are the moments when we must persevere the most in our faith. Those are the moments when we must pray for each other.

Towards the end of the First Reading, we heard that God decided to encourage His Servant by extending his mission. Not only will the Servant be chosen to restore the Jewish nation, but he will also be a light "to the ends of the earth," [Gen. 12:3; Lk. 2:32; Acts 13:47] announcing the good news that salvation has come.

During today's Second Reading from the Acts of the Apostles, [Acts 13:22-26] we heard St. Paul speaking of the criteria that God set when He chose David as king. King David was a man after His heart, who would carry out all His wishes. David was a type of Jesus as His ancestors. As King David was anointed [Ps. 89:20; 1 Sam. 16:12-3; 2 Sam. 2:4] by God, Jesus, the Messiah, was also anointed. The word "Messiah" means "the Anointed One."

When Paul said that from "David's posterity God had brought to Israel a Saviour, Jesus, as He promised," he was making a reference to the Lord Jesus who was raised up in fulfillment of all the promises of the Old Testament. The title of "to Israel a Saviour" meant that Jesus was the "Exalted One," who's function it is to save. Through the Lord Jesus, salvation came to all those who had faith in Him, who received the Church Sacraments and who persevered in their living faith.

Before the coming of the Lord Jesus, John the Baptist had proclaimed a baptism of repentance to all the people of Israel. [Acts 13:24] John the Baptist was sent to fulfill the prophecy from the Book of Malachi where it states,

"And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways." [Mal. 3:1; Lk. 1:76; Also Lk. 3:15-8; Mk. 1:4; Acts 19:4]

John the Baptist opened the way to Jesus. Once Jesus appeared on the scene, John's calling had come to an end. As John the Baptist said, "I am not worthy to untie the thong of the sandals of his feet." [Acts 13:25] Jesus, God incarnated, was more powerful than John the Baptist.

In concluding his discourse to the Israelites, Paul reminded them that the message that they had heard from John the Baptist was a message of Salvation. [Acts 11:14, 16:30-1]

Today's Reading from the Gospel of Luke [Lk. 1:57-66, 80] provided us with information regarding the birth of John the Baptist. When Elizabeth, the mother of John, gave birth to her son, the fulfillment of time had arrived. The last prophet had been sent by God. What was unique about this prophet is that while others spoke of the coming Messiah, John the Baptist personally knew the Messiah.

Because of the "old age of Elizabeth," [Lk. 1:36] no one would have expected her to bear a child. In view of this, the neighbours and relatives saw this as a "great mercy to her." [Lk. 1:58] Rarely does the Holy Bible use the word "great" unless something extra- ordinary is about to happen. In Genesis 19:19, we read of the "great kindness" of God when he saved the life of Lot before destroying Sodom and Gomorrah. In 1 Samuel 12:24, we read a reference to the "great things" that God had done for the people. God had freed His people from the Egyptian slavery. He brought them to the promised land and prepared the way for them to possess it.

When the neighbours and relatives of Elizabeth spoke of the "great mercy" [Lk. 1:58] that God had shown towards her, they were revealing God's redemptive acts.

As commanded by God, [Lev. 12:3] on the eight day, John the Baptist was circumcised in perfect observance of the Law of Israel. This ceremony was viewed as an important act of initiating a male child into the covenanted people of God. When reviewing St. Paul's Epistles, we learn that the old custom of circumcision is not a necessity to receive salvation through Christ.

As the late custom of Israel dictated [Tob. 1:1, 9], those who were present wanted John to be named "Zechariah" after his father. To this, Elizabeth objected. She said he should be named, "John." [Lk. 1:60] When the relatives objected to this, Zechariah asked for a writing tablet on which he wrote, "His name is John." [Lk. 1:63]

At this point, it must be remembered that the angel Gabriel [Lk. 1:19] had appeared to Zachariah and told him that his wife would bear a son who must be named John. [Lk. 1:13] Because Zachariah, being of old age, did not believe Gabriel, he became mute and was to remain so until the fulfilment of this prophecy. [Lk. 1:20] When Zachariah wrote on the tablet, three things became obvious. The prophecy that Elizabeth would bear a child was fulfilled. The prophecy that the child would be called John was fulfilled. And the prophecy that Zachariah would be able to speak again was fulfilled at that moment.

In view of all this, it is no wonder that "fear came over all the neighbours and all these things were talked about throughout the entire hill country of Judea." [Lk. 1:65] Those who heard of these things, they asked themselves in their heart, "What then will this child become?" [Lk. 1:66]

The answer to that question, I have given to you in detail during the first part of my homily. Saint John the Baptist came to testify to the Light. [Jn. 1:8]

My brothers and sisters in Christ, we may not be prophets. But we are still called to testify to the Light. We are called to testify as to what Jesus did for us? And we are called to testify as to what Jesus has done for the world by promoting His message of salvation. This week, each and everyone of us should take a moment to assess the status of this Christian obligation. Have we answered God's call to preach the good news? Those who have yet to do so, we members of the Parish join our prayers for the Holy Spirit to guide you in your callings. May the grace of God be with all of you.

* * * * * * * * * *

The readings...

[The readings were taken from the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible (C) 1989 Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Church of Christ in the United States of America.]

* * * * * * * * * *

First Reading...

"Listen to me, O coastlands, pay attention, you peoples from far away! The Lord called me before I was born, while I was in my mother's womb he named me.

He made my mouth like a sharp sword, in the shadow of his hand he hid me; he made me a polished arrow, in his quiver he hid me away.

And the Lord said to me, 'You are my servant, Israel, in whom I will be glorified.' But I said, 'I have laboured in vain, I have spent my strength for nothing and vanity; yet surely my cause is with the Lord, and my reward with my God.'

And now the Lord says, who formed me in the womb to be his servant, to bring Jacob back to him, and that Israel might be gathered to him, for I am honoured in the sight of the Lord, and my God has become my strength.

He says, 'It is too small a thing that you should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to restore the survivors of Israel; I will give you a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.'" [Is. 49:1-6]

* * * * * * * * * *

Second Reading...

"In those days, Paul said: "God made David king of our ancestors. In his testimony about him God said, 'I have found David, son of Jesse, to be a man after my heart, who will carry out all my wishes.'

Of this man's posterity God has brought to Israel a Saviour, Jesus, as he promised: before his coming John had already proclaimed a baptism of repentance to all the people of Israel. And as John was finishing his work he said, 'What do you suppose that I am? I am not he. No, but one is coming after me: I am not worthy to untie the thong of the sandals of his feet.'

You descendants of Abraham's family, and others who fear God, to us the message of this salvation has been sent." [Acts 13:22-6]

* * * * * * * * * *

Gospel Reading...

"The time came for Elizabeth to give birth, and she bore a son. Her neighbours and relatives heard that the Lord had shown his great mercy to her, and they rejoiced with her.

On the eight day they came to circumcise the child, and they were going to name him Zechariah after his father. But his mother said, 'No; he is the be called John,' They said to her, 'None of your relatives has this name.' Then they began motioning to his father to find out what name he wanted to give him.

He asked for a writing tablet and wrote, 'His name is John.' And all of them were amazed. Immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue freed, and he began to speak, praising God.

Fear came over all their neighbours, and all these things were talked about throughout the entire hill country of Judea. All who heard them pondered them and said, 'What then will this child become?' For, indeed, the hand of the Lord was with him.

The child grew and became strong in spirit, and he was in the wilderness until the day he appeared publicly to Israel." [Lk. 1:57-66, 80]

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