Solemnity of the Nativity of Saint John the Baptist – June 24, 2018
Saint Margaret Mary – Wichita, KS
Isaiah 49:1-6; Psalm 139:1-3, 13-15; Acts 13:22-26; Luke 1:57-66, 80
My name is Fr. Mike Brungardt, and I am very happy to be here at Margaret Mary. Four weeks ago I was ordained a priest, four weeks ago I was told by Bishop Kemme that he would be sending me to Margaret Mary. And now that I am finally here, I can only say how blessed I am to have been sent here. What a joy to be with you and to share this journey with you.
And on top of that, what a joy to begin my time here with the Solemnity of the Birth of John the Baptist. To be honest, I never really understood John the Baptist that well. I just thought he was that crazy cousin of Jesus who lived out in the desert, dressed weird, and ate bugs. Why is this guy such a big deal? We only celebrate three birthdays in the Church: Jesus at Christmas, Mary’s on September 8th, and John the Baptist today. So why? Why is John so special?
Well, if we read our Gospel closely, we realize that everyone was asking the same question from the beginning. All of his relatives and neighbors expected him to be named after his father. But instead, both Elizabeth and Zechariah correct their relatives and give him the name which the angel had given to Zechariah before he was conceived: John. And the name John should signal to us right away that there is something going on here. The name “John” means, “graced by God.” So it makes sense why all of the relatives and neighbors are asking, “What, then, will this child be?” Because if this child’s name is “John,” if this child is “graced by God,” the natural question is: for what is he graced? And this is the question we need to ask as well.
And really, the answer is quite simple. John is graced for one simple reason; he is graced from the moment he is formed in his mother’s womb for one simple purpose. He is graced to be the “prophet of the Most High; he will go before the Lord to prepare his way, to give people knowledge of the salvation that is coming through the forgiveness of their sins” (c.f., Luke 1:76-77). John is graced to be the light that precedes the Dawn, the flame compared to the Sun. John has only one mission in life, he is graced for one thing: to point people to Jesus Christ himself.
All of the prophets that came before John pointed to the Lord, and to Lord’s law, to the Lord’s covenant with us. They pointed out all that the people were doing to break the covenant. Some of them even made allusions to the Messiah who would come; the great Son of God who would lead us all to freedom and new life, the fulfillment of life. But John the Baptist pointed to Jesus himself. John’s entire life was dedicated to one thing: pointing the People of God to the one they had waited for for so long.
Think back to that famous scene of John in the wilderness. People flocked to him from all over the region surrounding Jerusalem. And he also had disciples who stayed with him day and night. This is where we can insert that idea of a kind of crazy character who never shaved, never cut his hair, and ate locusts and honey. He had a temper. But for some reason, he was believable, what he said resonated. Unlike other people running around at the time claiming to be prophets, there was something about John that caught peoples’ attention. Even the scribes and pharisees–the people who seem to be completely unable to be convinced even by Jesus–went out to be baptized by John, just in case what he was saying was right.
And then one day, Jesus comes along. John had probably have been muttering something about the “Lamb of God” for some time, and his disciples would have heard him and been confused. But then, on that day, as another group of people arrived to see John, one arrived from Nazareth. As the disciples of John would later discover, his name was Jesus. But it was to that man that John the Baptist pointed that day and said to them, “Look! Look! That’s him! Look, here is the Lamb of God! Behold the Lamb of God!” And those disciples abandon John and follow that man. And just like that, the mission for which John had been graced was complete.
John the Baptist had one mission in life: to point people to Jesus Christ. You know, for each of us here, we’re at different point of our pilgrimage, we’re all at different points in our faith. For some of us, we’ve been doing this a while and we kinda get it and just stick with the program; going to mass on Sundays, going to confession, praying, and we call it good. Some of us come to mass because we just feel guilty if we don’t. And perhaps some of us just don’t know why we come at all, and even right now are thinking of other things that we could be doing that seem like a better use of our time.
But regardless of where we fall on that spectrum, the character of John the Baptist should be a wake-up call for all of us! John the Baptist doesn’t spend his whole life in the hills of Judea and the desert near the Jordan to one day tell his disciples, “Hey! Look! There’s the guy that’s going to force you to go to mass once a week!” He doesn’t say, “Hey, there’s the guy that’s going to have you tells all of your sins to a priest.” No, John the Baptist proclaims, “Look! Look! That’s him! That’s the one we have been waiting for our entire lives! There is the one our Fathers waited for but never saw. There is the one who will restore to us our true life, eternal life. There is the one who can finally fulfill the greatest desires of our heart: life, happiness and peace forever. Look! There he is, the Lamb of God himself who will take away the sins of the world. How blessed are you that you live in a time like this.”
This is the simple fact that John gave his whole life to proclaim. The Lord exists, and he has drawn close to us in Jesus Christ; God is with us in this man Jesus.
My dear friends, if in my time here at this parish I am able to leave you with only one thing, let it be this. I can only hope and pray that it is but slightly as convincing as that of John the Baptist, whose initial proclamation of this fact still resounds to this day. Let us listen to him, and like those disciples, abandon everything to follow the Lord.