Today is the Feast of the Nativity of St. John the Baptist. St. John the Baptist, the son of Zechariah and Elizabeth, was born into a priestly family. His birth was miraculously announced to his father by an angel of the Lord (Luke 1:5-23), and on the occasion of his birth, his aged father proclaimed a hymn of praise (Luke 1:67-79). This hymn is entitled the Benedictus and serves as a Gospel Canticle in the service of Matins. Events of John’s life and his teachings are known from accounts in all four of the Gospels. In the wilderness of Judea, near the Jordan River, John began to preach a call to repentance and a baptismal washing, and he told the crowds, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has arrived” (Matthew 3:2). John denounced the immoral life of King Herod Antipas, with the result that Antipas had him imprisoned in the fortress of Machaerus near the Dead Sea. There he had John beheaded (Mark 6:17-29). John is remembered and honored as the one who with his preaching prepared the way for Jesus Christ (Matthew 3:3) and pointed to “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29).
Now the time came for Elizabeth to give birth, and she bore a son. And her neighbors and relatives heard that the Lord had shown great mercy to her, and they rejoiced with her. And on the eighth day they came to circumcise the child. And they would have called him Zechariah after his father, but his mother answered, “No; he shall be called John.” And they said to her, “None of your relatives is called by this name.” And they made signs to his father, inquiring what he wanted him to be called. And he asked for a writing tablet and wrote, “His name is John.” And they all wondered. And immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue loosed, and he spoke, blessing God. And fear came on all their neighbors. And all these things were talked about through all the hill country of Judea, 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.
And his father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied, saying,
“Blessed be the Lord God of Israel,
for he has visited and redeemed his people
and has raised up a horn of salvation for us
in the house of his servant David,
as he spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets from of old,
that we should be saved from our enemies
and from the hand of all who hate us;
to show the mercy promised to our fathers
and to remember his holy covenant,
the oath that he swore to our father Abraham, to grant us
that we, being delivered from the hand of our enemies,
might serve him without fear,
in holiness and righteousness before him all our days.
And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High;
for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways,
to give knowledge of salvation to his people
in the forgiveness of their sins,
because of the tender mercy of our God,
whereby the sunrise shall visit us from on high
to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,
to guide our feet into the way of peace.”
And the child grew and became strong in spirit, and he was in the wilderness until the day of his public appearance to Israel. (Luke 1:57-80 ESV)
Almighty God, through John the Baptist, the forerunner of Christ, You once proclaimed salvation. Now grant that we may know this salvation and serve You in holiness and righteousness all the days of our life; through our Lord Jesus Christ, Your Son, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.
(Treasury of Daily Prayer, 459-460)