Jesus called John the greatest of all those who had preceded him: “I tell you, among those born of women, no one is greater than John…yet the least in the kingdom of God is greater than he.” (Luke 7:28).
Luke 1:57-66, 80
57 Now the time came for Elizabeth to be delivered, and she gave birth to a son.
58 And her neighbors and kinsfolk heard that the Lord had shown great mercy to her, and they rejoiced with her.
59 And on the eighth day they came to circumcise the child; and they would have named him Zechari’ah after his father,
60 but his mother said, “Not so; he shall be called John.”
61 And they said to her, “None of your kindred is called by this name.”
62 And they made signs to his father, inquiring what he would have him called.
63 And he asked for a writing tablet, and wrote, “His name is John.” And they all marveled.
64 And immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue loosed, and he spoke, blessing God.
65 And fear came on all their neighbors. And all these things were talked about through all the hill country of Judea;
66 and all who heard them laid them up in their hearts, saying, “What then will this child be?” For the hand of the Lord was with him.
80 And the child grew and became strong in spirit, and he was in the wilderness till the day of his manifestation to Israel.
Ordinarily the Holy Mother Church recognizes the day of a saint’s death as his feast day because that is the day that marks the saints entrance into heaven. There are two exceptions to this rule… the birthday of the Blessed Mother and the birthday of Saint John the Baptist.
We read in the Gospel of Luke how Saint John the Baptist’s birth was foretold by the angel Gabriel, to his father Zechariah as he was offering incense at the Temple. We also read how John was filled with the Holy Spirit before his birth. As Mary come to visit her cousin Elizabeth, we read that the infant within her womb stirred with excitement…’leaping for joy...’as it were. John had a mission…from the moment of his creation in the womb of his mother, he was created for great things…his life was a complete and total dedication to bringing glory to the Lord….for setting forth the path..for preparing the way for the Messiah and urging those who had grown disobedient back to the path of righteousness.
As John was in the river baptizing his many followers, telling them, “I indeed baptize you with water; but there shall come one mightier than I, the latches of whose shoes I am not worthy to loose: he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost and with fire: whose fan is in his hand and he will purge his floor; and will gather the wheat into his barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire” (Luke 3:16-17) Whatever John may have meant by this baptism “with fire”, he, at all events, in this declaration clearly defined his relation to the One to come.
One day as John was baptizing his followers, Jesus approached him, wishing to be baptized. Immediately John recognized Jesus as the long awaited Anointed One that was heralded by prophets and angels, and he spoke the word’s which are said at every Mass during the Consecration, “This is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” (John 1:29) As Jesus rose from the water, the Spirit of God descended like a dove, alighting upon the head of Our Lord, as a voice from heaven declared, “This is my Son, with whom I am pleased.” (Matthew 3:16-17)
In closing I would like to eave you with an excerpt from The Church’s Year of Grace, from Pius Parsh :
In other words, today’s feast anticipates the feast of Christmas. Taking an overall view, we keep during the course of the year only two mysteries, that of Christ’s Incarnation and that of His Redemption. The Redemption mystery is the greater of the two; the Incarnation touches the human heart more directly. To the Redemption mystery the entire Easter season is devoted, from Septuagesima until Pentecost; and likewise every Sunday of the year, because Sunday is Easter in miniature.
The Christmas season has for its object the mystery of God become man, to which there is reference only now and then during the remaining part of the year, e.g., on Marian feasts, especially that of the Annunciation (March 25th) and today’s feast in honor of the Baptist. In a sense, then, we are celebrating Christ’s incarnation today. The birth of Jesus is observed on December 25 at the time of the winter solstice, while the birth of His forerunner is observed six months earlier at the time of the summer solstice. Christmas is a “light” feast; the same is true today. The popular custom centering about “St. John’s Fire” stems from soundest Christian dogma and could well be given renewed attention. St. John’s Fire symbolizes Christ the Light; John was a lamp that burned and shone. We Christians should be the light of the world.