Only three birthdays on the calendar

Mary + Jesus + John the Baptist

Homily for the Nativity of John the Baptist
(Scriptures for today's Mass)

Audio for homily

I’m a person who ends up sending more “belated” birthday cards
than regular ones because I so often forget people’s birthdays.
But if you want to remember the birthdays
of people on the church calendar – that’s pretty easy –
because only three people have their birthdays
on the liturgical calendar.

One would be in December and that would be – Jesus.
I’ve already told you today’s the birthday of John the Baptist.
And the third birthday would be – Mary – on September 8.

Clearly, these are the most important birthdays on the calendar
and, significantly, they’re all intertwined.

In Jesus’ birth the very Word of God becomes flesh
and comes to dwell among us
because Mary, his mother, opened herself to God,
said Yes to an angel’s invitation
and conceived a child by the power of the Holy Spirit.

And Mary, whose role in salvation history is so pivotal,
she herself was conceived immaculately
in the womb of her mother, Anna, wife of Joachim.

And John, who would prepare the way for Jesus,
who would announce his coming,
and baptize Jesus in the Jordan River --
John is conceived in the womb of an older barren woman
after her equally elderly husband was told by an angel
that he was about to become a father for the first time,
in his old age.

Before the skeptics among us too quickly dismiss any or all of this
as spiritual fiction,
let your hearts and minds take hold
of how intimately tied to human nature
is God’s approach to us in the person of Jesus.

Mary is conceived of the natural love of her parents
but from that moment, she was preserved from our human tendency
to prefer ourselves to God,
to prefer ourselves to our neighbor.

John is an unexpected but natural pregnancy,
a surprise to his elderly parents,
and yet for them a great joy, a gift from God.

Jesus is conceived by the Spirit’s power in a young woman’s womb:
the fruit of God’s nuptial love for all his people and for Mary who,
bearing the Christ in her body,
becomes the Mother of God.

In the stories of these three (Mary, John and Jesus)
we find a marriage of natural and spiritual love;
a marriage of the human with the divine;
a marriage that gives all of us new birth in baptism,
the grace to be conceived again of God’s love,
by the Spirit’s power,
through the body of Christ.

If you’ve moved beyond your skepticism but still think this is
little more than pious poetry,
then consider what becomes of the three whose birthdays we celebrate
on the church calendar.
Where do they end up?

Jesus, because he preached the loving mercy of God and nothing else,
was arrested, abandoned by his friends, tried, found guilty,
tortured, stripped and crucified.

Mary, the immaculate one, was stained with blood
as she stood at the foot of Jesus’ Cross,
her mother’s heart pierced as surely as was her son’s side,
as she watched him suffer and die.

And John, because he announced the reign of God
that was to be ours in the coming of Jesus,
John was imprisoned, executed, decapitated,
his head offered on a platter, as a tip,
for a dancer performing at a palace party.

It’s hard to imagine how God’s divinity
might have any more really and intimately insinuated itself
in our humanity, in our suffering.

I don’t know how God might have any more clearly identified with us,
in how we are conceived and born and live and love – and die.

When we celebrate and plumb the depths of the stories
of the births of Jesus, Mary and John,
we meet our God who came, through them, to meet us.

And it’s in the mysteries of our lives, yours and mine,
it’s in our humanity, yours and mine,
it’s in the joys and pain of our lives, yours and mine
that we come to know the saving merciful love of Jesus,
born of Mary, mother of us all
and heralded by John whose birthday we celebrate today.

At this Mass we’ll be blessing married couples
celebrating significant wedding anniversaries in 2012.

An anniversary, like a birthday, is a wonderful occasion
and when we are privileged to know the stories of the lives we celebrate
-- then an anniversary, a birthday is all the more wonderful.

In opening up and knowing the stories of Mary, John and Jesus
we begin to understand and appreciate
how the divinity of God’s love has married itself
to our humanity, to our lives – yours and mine.

Sometimes the Eucharist is described as
the “wedding feast of the Lamb”
at which the Lord is the groom and we, the Church, are the bride.

As he did on the Cross, so he does this altar:
Christ lays down his life, a sacrifice for his beloved,
and invites us to be intimately one with him
in the Sacrament of his Body and Blood at this table.

May the wedding banquet of the Eucharist,
God’s love for us in Jesus,
bring us his healing and his peace.


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