And while we’re at it: a happy Christmas too!
Today is the Solemnity of the Nativity of St. John the Baptist. According to the very first chapter of Luke’s Gospel, this last and greatest of the prophets was born six months before his Holy Cousin. And so, exactly six months before Our Lord’s Nativity, we celebrate John’s birthday.
John came into the world for a single purpose: to prepare the way for the Christ. Even today he readies our hearts, softening them to hear the good news that “God so loved the world that He gave His only-begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16, RSV: CE) That is surely something worth celebrating.
In fact, as Catholics we recall and honor the mystery of the Incarnation every day. We bow our heads at the mere mention of Jesus’ coming every time we recite the Angelus or the Nicene Creed. We kneel before His precious Body at Mass and Adoration. That consecrated Host is the very same Flesh and Blood to Whom John testified even before they were born (Luke 1:41). It is the same Spirit that fills every Child of God; each deserving to be loved as Christ loves us.
This Gospel message is much more than the day, or even the season, of Christmas can contain. As with John, it is our whole purpose. I laughed out loud the other day when I realized that the iPod, filled with soothing music and given to my daughter by her godmother to help cope with anxiety, was playing Christmas music. I laughed, not because I was humming seasonal tunes on the longest day of the year, but because my husband and I also regularly enjoy playlists loaded with Christmas music. Hearing those first soaring notes of “Once in Royal David’s City” from King’s College, Cambridge, or “I Saw Three Ships” by the Benedictines of Mary, Queen of Apostles during any time of the year (except Advent) is completely normal in our house.
Having young children at home, of course we celebrate Christmas with a birthday cake. In a delight of anticipation, we also make the same cake for the birthday of John the Baptist. Sometimes it’s a gingerbread cake, and other years it’s my Great-Aunt Eileen’s famous red velvet cake recipe; this year we’re trying a spiced Victoria sandwich. We do not enjoy these rich flavors at any other time of year; the warm smells and deep colors serve as a reminder for all the senses – even during the balmy beginning of summer – that Jesus is coming, and that He loves us with the greatest love of all time.
And that is something worth celebrating.