Decrease and Increase

Today the church celebrates the Nativity of John the Forerunner, you probably know him as “John the Baptizer,” popularly called the Cousin of Jesus.

John is the miraculous child of the aged Zechariah and Elizabeth, and we first hear of John’s movement in the world when a very pregnant Mary visits a very pregnant Elizabeth, and the still-wombed John leaps for joy.

John was religiously an Essene, otherwise known as a Son of Zadok, an extremist streak of Judaism known for odd behavior and dress. The Essenes focused heavily on repentance, rejected an immoral life, and publicly critiqued the rulers of the day, the Herodians.

This last part will get him killed in the end.

There are still followers of John the Forerunner in Iraq, believing that he is the rightful and true Messiah. They are a severely oppressed minority.

John’s birth day is no accident and is certainly not factually bound. The ancient church put it squarely six months before Jesus’ natal day, near the other pole of nature’s sequence, the Summer Solstice. As Jesus’ birth was placed near the Winter’s Solstice where light will ever increase, John’s natal day was placed near the Summer Solstice, where light will ever decrease, but never be extinguished. This dating of John the Forerunner’s feast pairs nicely with his own words in the Gospel of John (3:30) where the baptizer says, “I must decrease so that he might increase.”

Interestingly, Saint John the Forerunner is the patron saint of Quebec, and is celebrated all across French Canada.

Saint John the Forerunner is a reminder for me, and for the whole church, I think, that the call of the faithful is the call of both personal and societal critique. So much of what passes for Christianity today is focused too heavily on personal reform. John reminds us that our own internal reform should always lead us to call for societal reform.

Even if we lose our life in the process.