THE BIRTH OF ST. JOHN THE BAPTIST (Solemnity: 24 June; this year [2022] is celebrated on 23 June)

Jakarta, 23 June 2022

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LUKE 1:62-64 (Today’s Gospel Reading: Luke 1:57-66,80)


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LUKE 1:63 (Today’s Gospel Reading: Luke 1:57-66)

Jakarta, 23 December 2021

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LUKE 1:45 (Today’s Gospel Reading: Luke 1:39-45)

Jakarta, 21 December 2021

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LUKE 1:42 (Today’s Gospel Reading: Luke 1:39-45)

Jakarta, 19 December 2021

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(A biblical reflection on the Solemnity of THE BIRTHDAY OF SAINT JOHN THE BAPTIST – Thursday, 24 June 2021)

Gospel Reading: Luke 1:57-66,80

First Reading: Isaiah 49:1-6; Psalms: Psalm 139:3, 13-15, Second Reading: Acts 13:22-26

The Scripture Text

Now the time came for Elizabeth to be delivered, and she gave birth to a son. And her neighbors and kinsfolk heard that the Lord has shown great mercy to her, and they rejoiced with her. And on the eighth day they came to circumcise the child; and they would have named him Zechariah after his father, but his mother said, “Not so; he shall be called John.” And they said to her, “None of your kindred is called by this name.” And they made signs to his father, inquiring what he would have him called. And he asked for a writing tablet, and wrote, “His name is John.” And they all marvelled. And immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue loosed, and he spoke, blessing God. And fear came on all their neighbors. And all these things were talked about through all the hill country of Judea; and all who heard them laid them up in their hearts, saying, “What then will this child be?” For the hand of the Lord was with him.

And the child grew and became strong in spirit, and he was in the wilderness till the day of his manifestation to Israel. (Luke 1:57-66, 80 RSV)

The Church celebrates the birth of John the Baptist as a solemnity not only because he was the forerunner of Christ, but also because, as the Lord Himself said, he is the greatest among those born of women (Matthew 11:11).

It is in some ways surprising that we have any account at all of the birth of John the Baptist. Two of the Gospels, Mark and John, have no account even of the birth of Jesus. Matthew has an account of the birth of Jesus, but not of John the Baptist. Only Luke presents an account of the birth of John the Baptist, and his version is governed by two literary principles: First, he makes the account of John’s birth a direct and detailed parallel to the birth of Jesus; second, he writes his account of both births in the tradition of the births of Old Testament prophets and of classical biographies of heroic figures. In a sense, Luke is the most accomplished New Testament writer. He writes also, as his prologues to his Gospel and to his Acts of the Apostles testify, in the tradition of classical writers of history, and he writes the most elegant Greek in all of the New Testament, excepting perhaps that of the author of the letter to the Hebrews.

John was born when Zechariah his father and Elizabeth, his mother, were both old (Luke 1:18), and the lady was considered barren (Luke 1:36). In their case, within the human limits, a conception and a birth were impossible. But all things are possible for God. John’s birth was not a mere biological exception, but a special favor granted by God. Through his birth and mission, the power of God was guiding human history. We know this from the angel’s message to Mary, “And behold your kinswoman Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren. For with God nothing will impossible” (Luke 1:36-37). Accordingly John’s birthday is celebrated six months before the birthday of the Lord.

The angel of the Lord had told Zechariah about the child, “… he will be great before the Lord … and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit even from his mother’s womb … and he will go before Him in the spirit and power of Elijah …” (Luke 1:15-17). Even before they were born, Jesus and John met. John was so delighted in the presence of Jesus that he leaped for joy while still in his mother’s womb (Luke 1:44).

After his long silence, when John’s father spoke, his first words were a song of praise to God. Zechariah was a man of God, and after a long period speechlessness, at the first opportunity he spoke of what was foremost in his mind: the Benedictus (The Canticle of Zechariah). He also said to the child, “You shall be called a prophet of God the Most High. You shall go ahead of the Lord to prepare His ways before Him” (Luke 1:76). This, in fact, John did, crying out: “Repent, turn away from your sins, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 3:2). He exhorted the people to prepare the way of the Lord. He qualified himself as the voice crying in the wilderness: Prepare the way of the Lord!

Saint Augustine of Hippo [354-430] says: “John marks the frontier between the Old and the New Testaments. The Lord speaks of him as the boundary line: ‘The law and the prophets are valid until John the Baptist.’  He represents the Old Testament and at the same time introduces the New.”

Prayer: Heavenly Father, You sent Saint John the Baptist to the people of Israel to make them ready for Christ the Lord. Give the grace of joy in the Spirit, and guide the hearts of all the faithful in the way of salvation and peace. We pray this in the most precious name of our Lord Jesus Christ, Your Son, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Note: This is a revision of my writing dated 24 June 2018

Jakarta, 24 June 2021

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(A biblical reflection on the feast of THE VISITATION OF THE BLESSED VIRGIN MARY – Monday, 31 May 2021)

Gospel Reading: Luke 1:39-56

First Reading: Zephaniah 3:14-18 or Romans 12:9-16; Psalms: Isaiah 12:2-6

The Scripture Text

In those days Mary arose and went with haste into the hill country, to a city of Judah, and she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. And when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the babe leaped in her womb; and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and she exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! And why is this granted me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For behold, when the voice of your greeting came to my ears, the babe in my womb leaped for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfilment of what was spoken to her from the Lord.” And Mary said,

“My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for He has regarded the low estate of His hand maiden. For behold, henceforth all generations will call me blessed; for He who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is His name. And His mercy is on those who fear Him from generation to generation. He has shown strength with His arm, He has put down the mighty from their thrones, and exalted those of low degree; He has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich He has sent empty away. He has helped His servant Israel, in remembrance of His mercy, as He spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to his posterity for ever.”

And Mary remained with her about three months, and returned to her home. (Luke 1:39-56 RSV)

It was remarkable that God chose to bring about His work of redemption through two human babies and their mothers. Jesus was still in Mary’s womb, yet in His presence Elizabeth and her own unborn son, John, were filled with the Holy Spirit. This short but powerful scene gives us a glimpse of the forceful love of God, who simply cannot wait to pour out His life. What a foreshadowing this is of the glory of the risen Christ, who wants to pour out His Spirit on all people!

Elizabeth’s pure and humble response to the work of God in their lives must have brought great comfort to Mary. In Elizabeth she finally found someone with whom she could share her joy and awe at what was happening in her. Who else at this time could understand the song welling up within Mary’s heart (Lk 1:46-56)? Rather than being jealous of her younger relative’s exalted position, Elizabeth rejoiced with Mary and embraced her own supportive role. For her part, Mary did not wait for Elizabeth to come to her, but hastened to her side.

While this meeting between Mary and Elizabeth is unique, there is something here that we can all experience. As baptized believers, each of us is capable of bearing Christ to others. If our eyes were opened to the glory of this truth, we too would rejoice and be humbled in the presence of so holy a vessel as a sister or brother in Christ. Even non-believers would move us to great reverence because they too are created in God’s image and have just as much potential of being filled with the Holy Spirit. If God has so highly honored human beings this way, how could we fail to show them equal honor?

God used His Son, Jesus, even when He was just a fetus in the womb of Mary, to pour out divine life. Everyone, no matter how strong or weak, has been created as a dwelling place for God. So how can we long for God’s presence and yet disregard Him in the people all around us?

Prayer: Lord Jesus Christ, as You opened Elizabeth’s eyes in the presence of Mary, so open our eyes to those who also bear Christ. Help us to honor the potential of each person to be filled with the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Jakarta, 31 May, 2021 [The Feast of the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary]

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LUKE 1:66 (Today’s Gospel Reading: Luke 1:57-66)

Jakarta, 23 December 2020

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Prayer: Almighty God, give Your people grace to enter on the way of salvation. As they hearken to the voice of John, the Lord’s herald, bring them safely to Jesus, whom John foretold. We make our prayer through our Lord Jesus Christ, Your Son, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Jakarta, 24 June 2020 [Solemnity of the birth of Saint John the Baptist]

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