The Birth of John the Baptist
The story of Saint John the Baptist is dispersed throughout the Bible and is intimately connected with the story of Jesus.
There was a priest named Zechariah who married Elizabeth, the cousin of Mary. Zechariah and Elizabeth were very old and wanted children but could not have any. One day, Zechariah was in the temple when the Angel Gabriel appeared to him saying:
“Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall name him John…. He will be filled with the holy Spirit even from his mother’s womb, and he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God. He will go before him…to turn the hearts of fathers toward children and the disobedient to the understanding of the righteous, to prepare a people fit for the Lord.” (Luke 1: 13-17)
Zechariah doubted and so Gabriel declared that he would not be able to speak until the baby was born. When Gabriel visited Mary, after he told her she was going to be Jesus’ mother, he told her Elizabeth was also going to have a baby. Mary went to visit her and when she first arrived, John was so excited he leaped for joy in Elizabeth’s womb. Mary was there when Elizabeth had the baby and all of the relatives wanted to name the baby Zechariah. Eventually, Zechariah was asked to write down what the child’s name should be. He wrote, “John is his name.” And then he could speak again!
Zechariah then praised God through The Canticle of Zechariah. This is part of it:
“And you, child, will be called prophet of the Most High, for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways, to give his people knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins….” (Luke 1, 76-77)
The Life of John the Baptist
The prophet Isaiah spoke of John the Baptist when he said,
“A voice cries out: In the desert prepare the way of the Lord! Make straight a highway for out God!” (Isaiah 40: 3)
Even the prophet Malachi mentioned:
“Lo, I am sending my messenger to prepare the way before me….” (Malachi 3:1)
John was Jesus’ second-cousin but he was also Jesus’ herald. When he grew up, he lived in the desert and ate locusts and honey. John told people to repent because they should prepare their hearts for Jesus’ coming. When people thought he was the Messiah John told them,
“I am baptizing you with water, but one mightier than I is coming. I am not worthy to loosen the thongs of his sandals.” (Luke 3:16)
Before Jesus entered into His public ministry he came to John to be baptized and it was at His baptism that God said, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased” (Luke 3:22).
The Death of John the Baptist
Eventually, Herodias, the wife of King Herod, had John imprisoned because she was not happy with his teaching. One day, at King Herod’s birthday party, Herodias’ daughter performed a wonderful dance and he offered her any prize she wanted. She asked her mother who demanded the head of John the Baptist.
It was in this way, that John the Baptist, the final prophet, also became a martyr.
Jesus said of John the Baptist,
I tell you, among those born of women, no one is greater than John…. Luke 7: 28
A Man with Two Feast Days
There are three people in the Catholic Church who have feast days for both their birth and their death: Jesus (Christmas and Good Friday); Mary (September 8 is her birthday and August 15 is her Assumption); and finally, John the Baptist. The Nativity of Saint John the Baptist is celebrated on June 24. The Passion of Saint John the Baptist is celebrated on August 29.
The Legacy of Saint John the Baptist
The life and death of Saint John the Baptist should remind us that our whole lives should be dedicated to preparing the way for Jesus in our hearts and in the world around us.
The final witness of John the Baptist is one we should all take to heart and remember often:
“He must increase; I must decrease.” (John 3:30)