Today in the Church, we celebrate and remember a very special birthday for a well-known Saint that all of Christendom greatly admires. And if you didn’t get to peek at the calendar, and just in case you were not paying attention as the second Gospel reading was read a few short minutes ago, I’m going to give you some hints as to whose birth we celebrate on this day.
The first hint: He has been called the Prophet of Prophets whom none have surpassed in greatness. We know that Christ is the light of the world, and this man is the radiant candlestick who prepared the Lord’s chosen people by purifying them with water before the coming of the Spirit.
The second hint: This birthdate was so important, that it was foretold centuries before hand by the prophet Isaiah who said: “Behold I send my messenger before thy face, who shall prepare the way; the voice of one crying in the wilderness: Prepare the way of the Lord, make his path’s straight.”
The Third Hint: He is the offspring of the priest Zachariah who became a child of the wilderness and a preacher of repentance. He fulfilled that beautiful prophecy by Isaiah not only here on earth, but also after his tragic beheading, when he continued his work by announcing the Resurrection to those who were in hell.
If you haven’t figured it out already…today, we celebrate the birthday of the great St. John the Baptist! We heard in the gospel this morning how after this miraculous birth had taken place, on the day of St. John’s circumcision, his father Zachariah leaned over his son…as so many fathers do when their children are born…and whispered into his ear something beautiful. He said: “You my child will be called the prophet of the highest; for you will go before the face of the Lord to prepare His ways, and give knowledge of salvation to his people by the remission of their sins…to give light to those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death, and to guide our feet into the way of peace.”
As I was preparing the homily this week, my thoughts often dwelled upon the tragic passing of dear Michael, and the funeral that we had here just a few short days ago. I started to think back on this past year about all of the tragedies that so many in our parish had been...and in many cases still are, suffering through. There are no doubt moments in our lives, where despite our constant faith in Christ…despite years of devotion, scripture reading, and prayer to our creator…and despite knowing deep down inside of our very being, the truth about the Resurrection…that Light that we are so desperately searching for seems absent, and the shadow of the fallen world creeps up on us, leaving us shrouded in darkness…unsure of which direction we should be walking.
I felt a bit of that sadness on Monday at the tragic passing of Michael who was singing the Divine Liturgy with us this past Monday, with those beautiful blue eyes and bright childlike smile. But as our Lord does so often when we need a word, I was struck on the head with that prophetic direction of Zachariah to his newborn son, who was called “to give light to those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death…and to guide our feet into the way of peace.”
It is a common practice in today’s world to blame God for when things become chaotic in our lives. It is a trait that is found in all human beings, where we have this knack for ignoring the 99% of our lives that are going well, and concentrate on that 1% that isn’t working as it should be. But we learn throughout the Gospels something fundamental to our understanding of why bad things still happen to good people…and it is that our Lord never came to this world to save us from that 1%...He came to save us THROUGH that 1%.
When Christ was on the earth, he healed many people, but those people eventually lived out their lives, got sick, and passed away again. Why? Because Christ didn’t come to save us fromsickness and suffering…He came to save us THROUGHsickness and suffering.
This past week, despite the prayers for healing at the hospital, dear Michael still fell asleep in the Lord, because, as we so loudly proclaimed in the funeral services, Christ didn’t come to save us from death. He came to save us THROUGH death, trampling it down by His own death on the cross.
Last week, we read from perhaps my favorite Gospel reading throughout the entire Liturgical year from the 6thchapter of Matthew, when Christ is telling the faithful not to worry or be discouraged about the difficulties of life. It is from that Gospel reading that we are reminded of how everything in our life is being watched over by a God, who loves His creation so much, that He sacrificed Himself on the cross for our eternal survival. This love is the light St. John was called to bring to the world, and when we have the faith and vision to see this love clearly, there is no amount of darkness in the fallen world that can extinguish it.
We are blessed in that we know, or are at least reminded in the Church, that when we ourselves are confronted with moments that turn our lives upside down, we can take refuge in the embrace of our Father by escaping the world through prayer, and strengthening our knowledge of His love for us through the Holy Scriptures and the writings of the Saints. But this reality is not something that we can keep to ourselves.
There are so many people out there who are suffering without the benefit of having a Christ centered life. It is in those moments that we emulate the great Saint whom we remember today. We are all called to be little St. John’s…to be the mirrors which reflect Christ’s light into the depths of darkness on the stormy sea of life. Never be afraid to invite people to the Church or to share your experience of Christ with others. Offer to pray with those who are lost in the midst of the wilderness. Offer yourself as a blanket to comfort them in their sorrow.
Be the gentle presence of Christ in the midst of chaos…this is our high calling brothers and sisters in Christ, and it is not one that we can take lightly.
“To give light to those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death…and to guide our feet into the way of peace.”
Through the prayers of St. John the Baptist, may we all strive to become worthy candlesticks of Christ’s light to the world, Amen!