"The elderly Elizabeth gave birth to the last of the prophets, and Mary, a young girl, to the Lord of the angels. The daughter of Aaron gave birth to the voice in the desert (Isaiah 63:9), but the daughter of David to the strong God of the earth. The barren one gave birth to him who remits sins, but the Virgin gave birth to him who takes them away (John 1:29). Elizabeth gave birth to him who reconciled people through repentance, but Mary gave birth to him who purified the lands of uncleanness. The elder one lit a lamp in the house of Jacob, his father, for this lamp itself was John (John 5:35), while the younger one lit the Sun of Justice (Malachi 4:2) for all the nations. The angel announced to Zechariah, so that the slain one would proclaim the crucified one and that the hated one would proclaim the envied one. He who was to baptize with water would proclaim him who would baptize with fire and with the Holy Spirit (Matthew 3:11). The light, which was not obscure, would proclaim the Sun of Justice. The one filled with the Spirit would proclaim concerning him who gives the Spirit. The priest calling with the trumpet would proclaim concerning the one who is to come at the sound of the trumpet at the end. The voice would proclaim concerning the Word, and the one who saw the dove would proclaim concerning him upon whom the dove rested, like the lightning before the thunder.
The first chapter of the Gospel of Luke, from which we have today’s Gospel readings, begins not with the account of the birth of Jesus but with the birth of his cousin John the Baptist. In other words, the story of Jesus is not complete without the story of others. And among the many others in the Jesus story, his cousin John had a very special place. Recognizing the importance of John the Baptist, the Church celebrates two key events in John’s life. Today we celebrate his birth and on 29 August we celebrate his passion and death. It is clear that John’s life is so similar to that of Jesus.
But there is more that relates the life of John to that of Jesus. The mission of John is understood only in the light of the mission of Jesus. Luke’s account of John’s birth ends with the question, “‘what will this child be?’ For they understood that the hand of God was with him.” (Lk 1: 66b)
What this child came to be was to be the precursor to prepare the way of the longed-for Messiah. John’s mission was to prepare the minds and hearts of the people to accept Jesus as their Savior. John’s mission was to pave the way in the world of darkness for the Light of the world: “A man came, sent by God; his name was John. He came to bear witness, as a witness to introduce the Light so that all might believe through him. He was not the Light but a witness to introduce the Light.” (Jn 1: 6 – 8)
Yes, the story of Jesus and his mission is a story that involves other people, While today our celebration focuses on John the Baptist and his share in the mission of Jesus, our reflection can bring us, each one of us, to consider how we are called to be part of the mission of Jesus More than fifty years ago Vatican Council II reminded us that by our baptism all of us are called to share in the Lord’s salvific mission. In his recent visit to the Philippines, Pope Francis stressed the evangelizing call of our Church for the world. The missionary Church is not just the bishops, priests and ecclesiastical officials. The Church is the Church of the People of God, of all the baptized.
Looking around us we see that the mission of Christ is unfinished. John was called to prepare the way for Christ. Today each one of us is also called to be like John, to help our world receive Christ as he comes to us today.