Question: June 24 celebrates the feast of the Nativity of Saint John the Baptist. How was that date chosen and why?
Answer: The date set for John the Baptist’s birth only came into existence once the date to celebrate Jesus’ birth was set. Evidence shows that by the middle of the fourth century Christians were celebrating the birth of Jesus around December 25. No one at that time knew when Jesus was born, but the date seemed to be selected to counter the Roman festival to the sun god.
Once December 25 had been selected for the birth of Jesus, a number of other dates could be set, using the biblical evidence at hand. When the angel appeared to Mary and she conceived, her cousin, Elizabeth, the mother of John the Baptist, was in her sixth month. If Jesus was born on December 25, then he had to be conceived nine months before, on March 25. If Elizabeth was then in her sixth month, then John the Baptist was due three months later on June 25.
Then why June 24? A rather convincing reason stems from John’s witness in John’s Gospel. There John the Baptist says that Jesus must increase and he, John, must decrease. The other Gospels also have John point to Jesus and not himself as the chosen one of God. In making John’s birth a day less than Jesus’ full nine months, the Christian community communicated this Gospel reality in its liturgical calendar. Thus the Christian community continued to highlight John’s mission and ministry. Maybe we could strive toward that same mission in our own lives.
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