The Liturgical Home: The Nativity of John the Baptist

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The Nativity of John the Baptist, celebrated on June 24th and also known as the Summer Christmas, Nativity of the Forerunner, or Johnmas (I love that one!), is the special day we commemorate John the Baptist’s birth. It was once a highly celebrated feast day, though it doesn’t receive the recognition it once did, which is a real shame. After all, Jesus himself says in Matthew 11:11,

“among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist.”

He is the greatest of the prophets, for he was chosen to prepare the way for our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. The Prophet Isaiah foretells about John:

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A voice cries:
“In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord;
    make straight in the desert a highway for our God.” (Isaiah 40:3)

Likewise, the prophet Malachi says,

“Behold, I send my messenger, and he will prepare the way before me. And the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple; and the messenger of the covenant in whom you delight, behold, he is coming, says the Lord of hosts. (Malachi 3:1)

This is why the birth story of John the Baptist was considered so significant that the gospel author, Luke, wove it together with the birth story of Jesus.

About John the Baptist’s Birth

There is only one account of John the Baptist’s birth, which is found in  Luke 1. John’s parents, Zechariah, a Jewish priest, and Elizabeth, are old and without children. While Zechariah is in the temple offering incense, the Angel Gabriel appears and tells him that he and Elizabeth are to have a son, who they are to name John. Filled with disbelief, Zechariah is struck mute until the day of John’s birth. Meanwhile, his wife Elizabeth, previously barren, conceives and rejoices in God’s favor.

The focus then shifts to Mary, the mother of Jesus, as Gabriel appears to her with the news of her miraculous conception. Upon learning that her relative Elizabeth is also pregnant, Mary visits her. In an awe-inspiring moment, the unborn John leaps within Elizabeth’s womb, filled with the Holy Spirit, acknowledging the presence of the unborn Savior within Mary.

After Elizabeth gives birth to her son, she says his name is John. The neighbors and relatives move to name him after Zechariah, but Zechariah is given a tablet to write upon and agrees that his name is to be John. At that moment, Zechariah’s speech is restored, and he praises God and prophesies his son’s significant role in preparing the way for the Messiah.

This powerful account showcases God’s intricate plan unfolding, intertwining the lives of John the Baptist and Jesus as they play integral parts in the redemption of humanity.

About the Holiday

Here are some cool facts about the Church’s celebration of the Nativity of John the Baptist:

  • The Church calendar celebrates the births of only three people: Jesus, Mary, and John the Baptist.
  • When he appears to Mary, the angel Gabriel tells her that her cousin Elizabeth is already six months pregnant with John (Luke 1:36). This is why the Church celebrates the birth of John the Baptist six months before we celebrate the birth of Jesus on Christmas Day.
  • The Nativity of John the Baptist takes place immediately after the summer solstice, marking the pinnacle of the year with the longest day. As the solstice passes, the days gradually shorten, emphasizing the profound words of John the Baptist himself: “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30).

Ways to Celebrate

  • Read the story of John the Baptist in Luke 1:5-25, 39-45, 57-80.
  • Light a bonfire. Tradition has it that Elizabeth lit a bonfire to announce the birth of her son. All over the world, Christians light “St. John’s Fires” on mountains, hilltops, beaches, and backyards on the eve of his feast. In Ireland, the blessed ashes from the St. John’s Fires are sprinkled over the fields to ensure a good harvest.
  • Eat something made with honey. Since John the Baptist is known to have eaten locusts and wild honey, make something with honey or locusts or both! We choose honey! See the recipe for an easy-to-make and delicious honey cake.
  • Make things easy by celebrating with fire and s’mores using honey graham crackers.
  • Have a water fight. Since John the Baptist is known for baptizing those who repented, include water in your celebrations. In Mexico and the American Southwest, it’s traditional for Christians to attend morning mass and then dip fully clothed in the nearest body of water. They would also playfully throw buckets of water on each other. Throw water balloons or have a water war with your kids.

Honey Cake

  • 1/2 cup butter, softened
  • 1 cup honey
  • 2 large eggs, room temperature
  • 1/2 cup plain yogurt
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

Preheat the oven to 350°. Grease a 9-inch cast-iron skillet or cake pan.

In a large bowl, beat butter and honey until blended. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in yogurt and vanilla. In another bowl, whisk flour, baking powder, and salt; add to the butter mixture. Transfer batter to prepared skillet.

Bake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, 30-35 minutes. Cool completely in a pan on a wire rack. Serve with fruit and additional honey if desired.

Recipe from Taste of Home.

Photo by Mahad Aamir on Unsplash.

Author

Ashley Tumlin Wallace

Ashley Tumlin Wallace, the author of the Liturgical Home series of books and articles at Anglican Compass, is a homeschooling mom of four and the wife of an Anglican priest. She and her family live in the panhandle of Florida.

View more from Ashley Tumlin Wallace

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