By Elizabeth Baumann
Feast of the Nativity of John the Baptist
A Reading from Malachi 3:1-5
1 See, I am sending my messenger to prepare the way before me, and the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple. The messenger of the covenant in whom you delight — indeed, he is coming, says the Lord of hosts. 2 But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears?
For he is like a refiner’s fire and like washers’ soap; 3 he will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the descendants of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, until they present offerings to the Lord in righteousness. 4 Then the offering of Judah and Jerusalem will be pleasing to the Lord, as in the days of old and as in former years.
5 Then I will draw near to you for judgment; I will be swift to bear witness against the sorcerers, against the adulterers, against those who swear falsely, against those who oppress the hired workers in their wages, the widow, and the orphan, against those who thrust aside the alien and do not fear me, says the Lord of hosts.
The Old Testament lesson we have today is the one also chosen for the Feast of the Presentation. On the latter feast it’s an unexpected foil — what a twist! The Messiah comes to his temple as a baby in his mother’s arms, too poor even to bring a lamb for the sacrifice. For today it’s obviously chosen because of the opening line: the messenger sent to prepare the way. Automatically we think of John at the shore of the Jordan river, calling the people to repentance, proclaiming Jesus as the Lamb of God. But today we celebrate the day of his birth many years earlier — and after he had already begun to fulfill his calling. It was John who first recognized Jesus, months before either was born, and leapt for joy in Elizabeth’s womb.
In a few months we’ll have another feast of John the Baptist — the commemoration of his beheading. But today is the day more widely remembered, more widely celebrated and kept. Except for Jesus himself (and that is arguable), he’s the only person whose birth is a bigger deal on our calendars than his death. We’re told explicitly that John was filled with the Holy Spirit before he was born, before he could breathe on his own — much less preach. Lest we believe the lie that we need to be able to do more to fulfill our vocations, remember John the Baptist. Today we’re celebrating him for being born — he didn’t do anything on this day. For that matter, the Messiah who suddenly came into his temple, as a 40-day-old infant, didn’t do anything either.
Nor are we so very different. Whatever our various vocations, God sends his Holy Spirit to “purify and refine” us until we too may “present right offerings to the Lord.” We were never meant to do anything apart from him.
Elizabeth Baumann is a seminary graduate, a priest’s wife, and the mother of two small daughters. A transplant from the West Coast, she now lives in “the middle of nowhere” in the Midwest with too many cats.
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Daily Devotional Cycle of Prayer
Today we pray for:
St. George’s Episcopal Church, Nashville, Tenn.
The Diocese of Malaita – The Anglican Church of Melanesia