Father Robert M. Arida
Barrenness and prophesy are two interconnected themes which permeate the feast of the Baptist’s nativity. Elizabeth’s barrenness is used by God to reveal his love for the entire creation. This divine love, expressed in divine power and glory, enables the cousin of the Virgin to conceive. The conception and birth of St. John points to the termination not only of the barrenness of Zachariah and Elizabeth but also that of cosmic barrenness. Sin and death had rendered the creation incapable of nurturing and sustaining life. For the reign of death, traced back to Adam’s fall, aborted all life which was destined from all eternity to abide in the bosom of God.
Today we celebrate and bear witness to the unfolding of the creation’s renewal now affirmed in the birth of John the Baptist. Previously bound to death, the creation begins to reflect its true identity. From the barrenness of Elizabeth emerges the forerunner of the one who is life.
Celebrating the nativity of St. John should be an expression of our thanks to God who has delivered us from the horrible barrenness of death, which not only robs us of our biological existence but strives to impair and ultimately smother the creative powers of the mind and heart. Consequently, human creativity, now imbued with hope and life, is urged on by divine love to transcend its inherent limitations. Finding its highest expression in true worship human creativity is joined to divine life. The human person and his unique energy gradually, through ascetic effort, achieves harmony with the divine energy and hence the unfolding of the eternal ascent into the kingdom which is to come.
As members of the body of Christ, we are endowed with a prophetic calling. We are to proclaim and to show that the barrenness of creation has been filled with life. In the midst of desolation, God has brought John, the greatest of prophets, to prepare the way of the Lord. Like St. John, we are to continue announcing the prophetic word which awakens the creation from the barren slumber of sin. Like St. John, we are commissioned to lead an anxious and searching humanity to repentance by which it is drawn into the embrace of the Life Giver.
St. John prepared Israel for the coming of the Messiah. His call to repentance and baptism formed a faithful remnant that awaited the coming of the Messiah. It was this remnant that helped to provide the human component of the Church. Now we are responsible for continuing the call to repentance, which leads to the baptism of water and the Spirit. This is the baptism that enables humanity to become one with the sacred Passover which takes us from death to life. This is the baptism that compels us to prophesy the Lord’s glorious second coming.
The feast of the Baptist’s birth affirms the victory of regenerated and transfigured life. New life emerging from the barrenness of sin and death is the joyous core of our feast. Here is the beginning and end of the Church’s mission to and for the world.