Solemnity of the Birth of St. John the Baptist

Homily for June 24, 2019 (Solemnity of the Birth of St. John the Baptist)

Isaiah 49:1-6; Psalm 139; Acts 13:22-26; Luke 1:57-66, 80


“What’s in a name?”


That question was famously posed by Juliet Capulet

            to her ill-fated lover, Romeo Montague,

            in William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. 

She added,

            “That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” 

It was a young woman’s protest to her lover

            against the ancient feud between their families that kept them from each


            and ultimately led to their tragic deaths.


“What’s in a name?” 


A lot, it turns out. 


Just ask Elizabeth and Zechariah,

            who rejected social and cultural convention

            and gave their newborn son a name that none of their relatives had: 

                        Yochanan in Hebrew and in English, John. 

The name means, “God is gracious.” 


It was certainly fitting

            for the child that Zechariah and Elizabeth thought that they would never have.  It was certainly fitting

            for a child who could remove the shame felt by his parents

            in a culture in which children, especially sons, were considered a blessing

            and the inability to have children a curse

                        and perhaps even a punishment for sin.

The birth of John took all of that away. 


He was a living sign that God had blessed this holy couple. 

Not only that,

            as the angel Gabriel told Zechariah when announcing this miracle,

            John would be a sign not only of God’s graciousness toward them

            but also toward the people of Israel: 

                        “[H]e will be great in the sight of the lord. 

                        He will be filled with the holy Spirit even from his mother’s womb,

                                    and he will turn many of the children of Israel

                                    to the Lord their God.

                        He will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah

                                    to turn the hearts of fathers toward children

                                    and the disobedient to the understanding of the righteous,

                                    to prepare a people fit for the Lord” (Luke 1:15a, 16-17).


It was John who, as a prophet and the herald of Jesus, would be in Isaiah’s words

            a “sharp-edged sword” and “a polished arrow,”

            calling people great and small, religious leaders and ordinary laborers alike,

            to repentance. 

Their change of heart was symbolized by the ritual washing of baptism. 


However, as John himself noted, his own mission

            was ultimately in service to the mission of another,

            one who’s sandals he did not feel worthy to unfasten. 

The name of that one, his cousin, would be Jesus, in Hebrew Yeshua or “God saves.”


Take some time to reflect on your own name:

            For what or whom are you named? 

Many of us are named after a parent or relative. 

Others are named after a favorite saint.

Still others are given a name that’s popular at a given time. 

            (There were a lot of children named “Jordan” when the Chicago Bulls were

            winning championships in the 1990’s!)


As you reflect on your name,

            consider your purpose and call from God. 


Psalm 139 reminds us that, no matter what anyone else or the world may think of us,

            each of us is “fearfully and wonderfully made.”

God formed us in the womb, knit us together. 


St. Luke records

            that the people who heard of John the Baptist’s miraculous birth

            and his parents’ startling choice of his name

                        asked themselves,

                                    “What, then, will this child be?” 

He then comments, “For surely the hand of the Lord was with him.”


The hand of the Lord has been with us, too,

            from the moment of our conception. 

The same hand of the Lord is with us now. 

He invites us to trust

            in his love, mercy, power and direction

            to fulfill the promise and purposes for which we were created. +