Solemnity of the Nativity of Saint John the Baptist

Lectionary: 587

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"No. He will be called John.”

As if John's birth by an elderly woman were not enough, his relatives and friends are amazed that he should be called John.

The name means, "Yahweh has shown favor." 

There is all kinds of significance here. First, let's not forget that those who live alone without connection to other people do not need a name. But there is no one like that. 

Every child born is given a name because, at least from the day of birth, a child lives in close contact with other people. Unlike many animals, the human baby is utterly dependent on caring parents. We cannot even turn over at birth, much less fend for ourselves in an indifferent, sometimes hostile world. 

We need people and that means we need names to be known by one another. 

We have formal names, bureaucratic names, titles and nicknames. Many children enjoy one particular name which is only used by very particular people. Children and adults often bestow particular names on one another. The name is the relationship. Beyond the relationship the name means nothing. 

Names can be used to honor or humiliate. From recent literature you may remember "Prisoner 24601," the name given to Jean Valjean in the musical, Les Miserables. If you remember that, you'll remember M. Valjean's refusal to respond to the insult. He would not be called a criminal or a prisoner. 

The name John has divine significance, as Saint Luke tells us. It means "Yahweh has shown favor." His mother Elizabeth insisted upon the name, although she had not been privy to the conversation between Angel Gabriel and Zechariah, because, as she said, "So has the Lord done for me at a time when he has seen fit to take away my disgrace before others."

This "favor" was both particular and general: particular to Elizabeth and general to everyone who would ever learn of the child and his mission. 

Because we know his name, we enjoy special privileges. I suppose lots of people know Jesus' name and bless themselves by it, but if they don't know John's name they surely know little about Jesus. Not knowing how "Yahweh has shown favor" through John the Baptist, they cannot be deeply invested in the Christian communion. 

That's why we have feast days like this, to announce God's favor and deepen our appreciation of it. 

This Solemnity also reminds us that we celebrated Christmas only six months ago, and will celebrate it again soon. In the heat of the summer it is good to remember how close Our God is to everyone who blesses himself by the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. 

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I love to write. This blog helps me to meditate on the Word of God, and I hope to make some contribution to our contemplations of God's Mighty Works.

Ordinarily, I write these reflections two or three weeks in advance of their publication. I do not intend to comment on current events.

I understand many people prefer gender-neutral references to "God." I don't disagree with them but find that language impersonal, unappealing and tasteless. When I refer to "God" I think of the One whom Jesus called "Abba" and "Father", and I would not attempt to improve on Jesus' language.

You're welcome to add a thought or raise a question.