Fr Richard's homily for the Solemnity of the Birthday of Saint John the Baptist
Homily: Joy and hope
Joy and hope are the two Christian treasures that characterise today’s great Solemnity. The perception among Elizabeth’s relatives and friends would have been that there was “no hope” of her having children. Even her husband Zechariah doubted the news that she was to bear a son – a reaction that led to him being struck dumb. And yet – “nothing is impossible for God”.
Their neighbours and relations, the Gospel tells us, shared Elizabeth’s joy at the news of her son’s birth. As Judaea heard of how Zechariah’s speech returned at the naming of John, they were filled with hope. They treasured the story in their hearts and said: “What will this child turn out to be?”
The birth of John the Baptist is indeed a colossal moment in the history of salvation. It heralds the coming of the Messiah – a birth that brings deep joy and hope to the whole world. Even before being born, John leapt for joy in his mother’s womb at the Visitation, when he was in the midst of the unborn Jesus.
This Solemnity occurs ‘smack bang’ in the middle of a year, perhaps one of the most challenging of our lifetime. It’s six months till Christmas Eve – the celebration of Christ’s Mass. Yesterday, we got some hopeful news – a breakthrough. The Government will allow services again in Church from July 4, providing there are appropriate safety measures in place. We’re waiting on Government guidance, and instructions from our Bishops – so we don’t as yet know what the new arrangement will look like, what numbers will be permitted etc. But, as we celebrate today’s great Feast, there’s certainly cause for “joyful hope” that we can soon participate in the mysteries of our salvation again soon.
The celebration of the Eucharist is the very celebration of joyful hope. It’s a participation in, a foretaste of, the Sacred Banquet that we long to celebrate for eternity in our heavenly homeland. The priest prays in the Mass, words Bishop Terry has for his moto, that we are “waiting in joyful hope for the coming of Our Saviour, Jesus Christ.”
The joy and hope of St John the Baptist’s birth, points towards the joy and hope of Bethlehem, where the “Word becomes Flesh and dwells among us” even today in the Eucharist, just as He did in the stable. The mysteries of salvation, in turn, point towards Christ’s coming in glory on the last day when we shall reign with Him.
May we wait with joyful hope at the coming of this great day.