Luke 1:1-25, 57-68, 76, 80 [delivered at St George Antiochian Orthodox Church in Vicksburg, MS]

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. Christ is in our midst! He is and shall be!

Today we celebrate the Feast of Nativity of St. John, the Prophet and Forerunner and Baptizer of our Lord. St. John has always held a particular place of veneration for us in the Orthodox Church. Jesus said of him, among those born of women, never has one greater been born. Traditionally in our Churches the icon next to the icon of Christ on the iconostasis is one of St. John. Since he was the Forerunner of Christ, getting the people ready for the coming of the Messiah, and since he Baptized the Lord at the beginning of His earthly ministry, St John plays a crucial role in God’s plan for our salvation. So I thought this morning to say a little about the life of St John the Baptist, and especially to look at his main message to the people – a message that was also central for Jesus, and a message that we continually need to hear as well.
In this morning’s Gospel reading, we heard about the conception and birth of St John. His parents were barren, they had no children, and this was a great shame for Jewish families at that time, especially since his father was a priest. But it happened that one time, when Zacharias was offering incense in the temple, an angel appeared to him and told him that they would have a son, and to name that son John. The angel also prophecies that John will be great in the sight of the Lord, that he will live a particularly set apart and ascetic life (not drinking wine nor cutting his hair). The angel also says that John will be filled with the Holy Spirit even from his birth, and that he will lead many people back to God in preparation for the coming of the Messiah. So even from the very conception of St John, we see the work of God in his life – his birth was miraculous, seeing as how his parents had been barren until the prophecy of the Archangel Gabriel.

Everyone rejoiced when John was born, mostly that the shame had been lifted from his parents by his birth. But his father Zacharias was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied about his son, saying that he would be a prophet of the most High God, and that he will prepare the people for the coming of the Lord. The final verse of the reading is short, but significant – “So the child grew and became strong in spirit, and was in the deserts till the day of his manifestation to Israel.” St John began his life in fulfilling the angel’s prophecy – he grew ever stronger in God, and he lived a life that was different than other people’s lives, he live in the desert, being prepared for his ministry to the people.

The next time we encounter St John, he is attracting large crowds from the cities and he is preaching. His primary message is simple – “Repent, for the Kingdom of God is at hand.” He calls on the people to leave their wicked ways and to return to God. And St John is not shy about speaking the truth – he speaks to the normal people, to the rich people, to the nobility, to the priests of the temple, and even to the King. He calls on everyone to repent and to return their hearts to their God. It is one day while he is preaching near the river Jordan that Jesus comes to him and asks to be baptized. St John had been baptizing people for the forgiveness of their sins, so he knows that Christ doesn’t need this kind of baptism. But our Lord insists that he be baptized, and this event marks the beginning of our Lord’s open earthly ministry. Eventually, St John’s call for people to repent leads to his martyrdom – he calls on King Herod to repent, and this angers the king and gets John arrested – later, King Herod’s wife asks for the head of St John on a platter, if you remember the story.
I would mention a few things from St John’s life that we particularly should remember for our own lives. Firstly, the constant call to repentance. We all need to repent, and we need to repent daily, even many times a day. We are reminded of this every morning and evening when we say our prayers, and how many times we ask for forgiveness. Repentance is not just feeling bad about our sins, but indicates a real desire not to sin again. Repent means that we turn from sin and do the things of God. We need to be in a constant state of confessing our sins to Christ, and asking for the strength to move forward and not to repeat those sins, and then we struggle to live according to the commandments of our Lord. 
If we live like this, in a continual state of repentance and of turning our lives to God, then our lives will resemble the life of St John. He lived apart from the people, he lived a life of asceticism in the desert. Now, I don’t mean that we’ll stop cutting our hair and live in the desert! But if we strive to live the commandments of Christ, our lives will not be like the lives of the people of the world around us. Our lives will be set apart because we’re living the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Our greatest witness to the world as Christians is when we live the Gospel. When we are striving to live out those words of St Paul – it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me.

And so, when we’re struggling with sin and with the weight of the world around us, we can turn to St John the Baptist and both be inspired by his life and by his words and by his witness, and we can also cry out in prayer, asking for his intercessions for our victory and our salvation.

Holy Prophet, Forerunner, and Baptist of our Lord, St John, pray to Christ our God, that our souls may be saved!

Glory to Jesus Christ! Glory forever!

Author Matthew Jackson