John the Baptist, Christmas, and the Liturgical Year

Today, we celebrate the feast of the Nativity of St. John the Baptist. Lots of cool facts are connected to this feast. Only three figures in history were born without original sin (unless you count Adam and Eve… were they “born”?): Jesus, Mary, and John the Baptist. As a result, we celebrate the Nativity of all three: Jesus on December 25th (in what is known as “Christ’s Mass,” or sometimes, “Christmas”), Mary on September 8th, and John the Baptist today.

The basis for the belief that John the Baptist was born without original sin is Luke 1:41-44, where John (still in the womb) leaps for joy, filled with the Holy Spirit: since the Catholic view of original sin is a deprivation of sanctifying grace, and John is filled with this grace in the person of the Holy Spirit Himself, he’s cleansed of sin before he’s born. John Henry Cardinal Newman wrote to the Anglican E. B. Pusey (who became head of the Anglo-Catholic “Oxford Movement” upon Newman’s entrance into the Catholic Church) comparing and contrasting the Catholic views on Mary and John the Baptist’s conception and nativities:

Mary may be called, as it were, a daughter of Eve unfallen. You believe with us that St. John Baptist had grace given to him three months before his birth, at the time that the Blessed Virgin visited his mother: And accordingly he was not immaculately conceived, because he was alive before grace came to him; but Our Lady’s case only differs from his in this respect, that to her the grace of God came, not three months merely before her birth, but from the first moment of her being, as it had been given to Eve.

This is also, incidentally, why we celebrate the conception of Jesus and Mary (the Annunciation, celebrated March 25th; and the Immaculate Conception, celebrated December 8th).

An even more interesting connection is this one. We know from Luke 1:26 that John the Baptist is about 6 months older than Jesus. Traditionally, Jesus’ conception was celebrated on March 25th, because of an old rabbinical tradition that the great prophets died on either their birthday or the day they were conceived. Apparently, since they didn’t know His actual conception date, they just followed this tradition, since March 25th is pretty close to Easter. From this comes Christmas on December 25th, 9 months later. And since John the Baptist is 6 months older, his conception is assumed to be about September 24th, and his birth June 24th (today).

Why is that cool? Well, it so happens that because Christ’s birth was right about the spring equinox, the conception and birth of John the Baptist and Jesus Christ make something of a cross across a cyclical calendar. And cooler still, John the Baptist’s birth comes during one of the longest days of the year, while Jesus’ birth comes during one of the shortest. And just as the days following Christmas increase, while the days following the Nativity of John the Baptist decrease, John the Baptist said of Christ, “He must increase, I must decrease” (John 3:30).

It all fits together so perfectly, and comports very well Biblically. It’s either a stroke of genius, luck, or Providence.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *