‘John rejoiced and pointed out the Lamb of God: come let us adore him.’ (Invitatory antiphon)
During the time of pandemic, the media portrayed significant birthday celebrations that occurred for individual persons. These celebrations filled the hearts of those with joy, whose birthdays needed to be celebrated in the ‘now’ rather than postpone to a further date. For many reasons, waiting was not the best option. Images were highlighted on banners, cards, balloons and cakes. Joy and excitement were transmitted on our screens, as party goers maintained at a physical distance.
The birth of a baby at any time is a time to rejoice. However, the birth of a long awaited baby is even a greater source of rejoicing. This is the story of the birth of St John the Baptist, a long awaited baby, called by God to do a special task, ‘to foretell the coming of his Son.’
THE WORD OF GOD
The readings proclaimed at Mass today can be heard via webcam or read from the Old Testament and New Testament.
The first reading from the prophet Isaiah (Is 49:1-6) proclaims a message from God for God’s people. God’s call repeats itself in Scripture. The call to be a prophet came before the prophet was born. The Lord protects those he calls and assigns a special mission to them. The prophet acknowledges God’s call as prophet and he thought to himself, ‘I have toiled in vain, I have exhausted myself for nothing.’ Meanwhile this prophet is unknown to people and rejected by many. In time, the prophet recognises that he was ‘honoured in the eyes of the Lord’ that ‘my God was my strength’. The prophet is ‘to gather Israel’ to the Lord and to one another. God’s people will be restored from exile and saved. The further promise to the prophet is ‘I will make you the light of the nations’ so that all may know they are saved.
Such was the call to John in the womb of Elizabeth.
The Gospel tells the story of his birth. John was the one who prepared the way for Jesus.
The Gospel (Lk 1:57-66, 80) relates the birth of John the Baptist. This is a story of great joy that is mirrored in the first reading. Elizabeth’s relations, neighbours and friends were joyful and thankful to God, on hearing Elizabeth had given birth to a baby.
This is a story of hope. At first, they all thought the baby would be called after his father Zechariah, but Elizabeth said ‘No’. His name was John. The people turned to Zechariah to check out what his name should be. As Zechariah wasn’t able to speak, since the angel visited him in the Temple, he wrote down clearly the name ‘John’. As soon as he did that, he began to speak again and praised God.
The people were afraid. John is the prophet who announces the coming of the Saviour. He calls the people of Israel to return to the Lord and repent of their sins and to be baptised. Later on, he introduced Jesus to God’s people as the Lamb of God. Throughout his life he witnessed to a simple lifestyle, self-sacrifice, humility and justice, shown in Sacred Scripture.
For many centuries, the Jewish people, the Israelites believed that God would send a Messiah to save God’s people. God already did this during the time of the Exodus from Egypt. The prophets kept the hope alive.
The story of the birth of Jesus begins with the visit of the angel to Zechariah, John’s father. Zechariah and Elizabeth were the parents of John the Baptist. They hoped to have a child one day and they waited. Zechariah prayed. He was a priest in the Temple. Eventually, the Angel Gabriel appeared to him and answered his prayers. Elizabeth gave birth to a baby boy. John was the forerunner to the Messiah, his cousin Jesus and son of Mary and foster son of Joseph.
SEEK GOD’S LOVE IN THE GROW IN LOVE RELIGIOUS EDUCATION PROGRAMME
The Grow in Love RE programme provides many resources on the life and message of St John the Baptist. These resources coupled with the liturgy of the day provides disciples with a knowledge of the life of this great Saint as Jesus said of him, ‘Among those born of women there was no man greater than John the Baptist’, as recited in the antiphon of the Evening Prayer 11 of the Solemnity.
Today children might be encouraged to recall their own birth date and Baptism. They will identify why we remember such a person as John the Baptist and what is the meaning for their lives.
John the Baptist is introduced in the Grow in Love programme as an Advent character and a special person.
From Junior Infants/P1 and following through the classes the children are taught about John, whose name means ‘The Lord has shown favour’. John is an attractive figure for children and his time in the desert is always a source of wonder to them. John lived an austere life and was single minded in his love for God.
He was the prophetic voice of God and he lived a humble life. His words about his relationship with Jesus teaches God’s people how he stood before the One who was to come. John said, ‘He is the one who comes after me, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie.’(Jn 1:27). John was sent to prepare the way for the Lord. Disciples also are called to show others by word and deed, the way to Jesus. How can children do this among family and friends?
So from the Gospel the children recall the visit of Angel Gabriel to Zechariah (Lk 1:8-24), the Annunciation (Lk 1:26-38), and the Story of the Visitation of Mary to Elizabeth (Lk 1:39-56). Elizabeth and Mary were pregnant with John and Jesus respectively. Children identify Zechariah as the priest in the Temple to whom the Angel Gabriel appeared. They also identify Mary as the one to whom the Angel Gabriel also appeared. Of course Zechariah was afraid when the angel appeared and spoke to him. The angel told Zechariah his wife would have a baby and the baby was to be called John.
When John was born and named, Zechariah praised God in a special prayer called the ‘Benedictus’ (Lk 1:68-79). This he said, when his speech returned after he named his son John.
The Benedictus is recited by God’s people daily as part of the Morning Prayer of the Church. This prayer is included with the formal prayers in the back pages of the Children’s Grow in Love e-book.
The poem called ‘Patient People’ in Fifth Class/P7 Grow in Love programme, might link with the theme of waiting during Covid-19, while the country waits for restrictions to be lifted or children wait to go back to school, sports, church, etc.
Today children might explore the call of John the Baptist and how he baptised Jesus in the river Jordan. They might reflect on their own call received at Baptism to share the Good News and to love and help one another.
They might pray in thanksgiving and pray that God’s people might listen to what God asks of God’s people today. They might pray for all people who celebrate their birthday today with John the Baptist.
The story of the Birth of John the Baptist is accessible in the Children’s Grow in Love e-book. Other online resources including journal activities are available on the VERITAS website to explore the life of St John the Baptist.
READ from Grow in Love/ I nGrá Dé:
‘God Sends the Angel Gabriel to Zechariah’, (Lk 1:8-24), ‘The Birth of John the Baptist’ (Lk 1: 57-66), ‘Benedictus’ (Lk 1:68-79), ‘The Annunciation’, (Lk 1:26-38), ‘The Visitation’, (Lk 1:39-56).
SING from Grow in Love/I nGrá Dé:
‘They’ll Know We Are Christians By our Love’, ‘Spirit-Filled Day’, ‘Come O Long Expected Jesus’
PRAY from Grow in Love/I nGrá Dé:
The Benedictus (Lk 1:68-79)
Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel;
he has come to his people and set them free.
He has raised up for us a mighty Saviour,
born of the house of his servant David.
Through his holy prophets he promised of old
that he would save us from our enemies,
from the hands of all who hate us.
He promised to show mercy to our fathers
and to remember his holy covenant.
This was the oath he swore to our father
to set us free from the hands of our enemies,
free to worship him without fear,
holy and righteous in his sight all the days of our life.
You, my child, shall be called the prophet of the Most High;
for you will go before the Lord to prepare his way,
to give his people knowledge of salvation
by the forgiveness of their sins.
In the tender compassion of our God
the dawn from on high shall break upon us,
to shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death,
and to guide our feet into the way of peace.
THE SECOND JOYFUL MYSTERY OF THE ROSARY, THE VISITATION
OUR FATHER X 1
HAIL MARY x 10
GLORY BE TO THE FATHER x 1
‘Zachary opened his mouth and spoke this prophecy: Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel.’(Benedictus antiphon)
The child that is born to us today is greater than any prophet: this is he of whom the Saviour said, ‘Among those born of women there was no man greater than John the Baptist.’ (Magnificat antiphon)
I thank you for the wonder of my being. (Psalm 138:14).
from LAUDATO SI’ ON ‘THE WRITINGS OF THE PROPHETS’
‘The writings of the prophets invite us to find renewed strength in times of trial by contemplating the all-powerful God who created the universe. Yet God’s infinite power does not lead us to flee his fatherly tenderness, because in him affection and strength are joined. Indeed, all sound spirituality entails both welcoming divine love and adoration, confident in the Lord because of his infinite power. In the Bible, the God who liberates and saves is the same God who created the universe, and these two divine ways of acting are intimately and inseparably connected: “Ah Lord God! It is you who made the heavens and the earth by your great power and by your outstretched arm! Nothing is too hard for you… You brought your people Israel out of the land of Egypt with signs and wonders” (Jer 32:17, 21). “The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable. He gives power to the faint, and strengthens the powerless” (Is 40:28b-29). ‘(Laudato Si’, no.73).
St John the Baptist, pray for us.
‘O Mary conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to Thee’.
Sr Anne Neylon