Happy feast day!
Today, we celebrate the Nativity of St. John the Baptist. And, boy! What a special feast day it is! In fact, it’s so special that it’s celebrated over two days… yesterday was the Solemnity of the Vigil of the Nativity of St. John the Baptist, and this is the actual day where his birth is celebrated!
And what a special day it is! So special that the Gospel of Luke opens up and begins by telling the story, not of the Annunciation, but rather of the story of Zechariah and Elizabeth!
So, in honor of today, I would like to feature the gospel from both the vigil and today, which is the official day of the nativity! Plus, a couple of other parts from the gospel, since clearly you can’t go wrong with the bible…
Here is the gospel from the Vigil mass:
This reading certainly ends on a happy note, doesn’t it? Yet, alas! Zechariah doesn’t believe in the angel and doubts the Word! So, he asks for a sign, since he is incredulous that such a thing can happen with him. So, God gives him a sign…
After this, the gospel shifts over to Mary! We hear how the angel came to her in the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, the Annunciation happens, and Mary rushes over to help her cousin, who is probably about 100 miles away from her. Then, the Visitation occurs, in which Mary greets Elizabeth, and John the Baptist gets his first official gospel appearance in which he leaps for joy at the mere presence of Jesus. Mary praises God in her beautiful Magnificat and then, for three months, she helps out Elizabeth before heading home.
And so, tradition states that she helped deliver John the Baptist! Which kind of makes sense… after all, Luke the Evangelist met with the Virgin Mary and learned her stories, which is how he was able to write the infancy narrative that he did. And, as an eyewitness, she would be able to relate to the following story, today’s (extended) gospel, which tells of the birth of John the Baptist, including Zechariah’s song of praise!
As you can imagine, this is a very dramatic story! And so, it is fitting that there are many beautiful art pieces about this event. Check out this one, by Tintoretto:
It is an artwork depicting what having a baby probably looked like in the 16th century to a woman of higher class.
In this picture, Mary, denoted with a halo around her head, holds a baby (also with a halo!) and swaddles him while a nursemaid nurses him. Midwives and nurses rush about, holding rags to swaddle the baby and pans of water to clean up the mess which comes after birth. One nurses soothes Elizabeth, who is tiredly resting on a bed after what is probably an exhausting labor.
But the person who steals the scene is Zechariah. While Mary holds the newborn gently and wraps him up with swaddling clothes — something that she will do for Jesus in a short six months time — Zechariah steps forth dramatically, his fingertips touching his chest as if he is repressing a song.
And, when people finally ask him to name the child and after he writes the name, “John,” he will explode into song, praising and thanking the Lord for all that the Lord has done and for all that the Lord will do.
So, have a lovely feast day, and don’t forget to praise God just a little more today!