Rector’s Ramblings: The Nativity of St. John the Baptist, June 24th
Greetings, brothers and sisters in Christ!
I am a bit late getting inspired for this, for which I apologize! And I have been trying to combine my “Ramblings” with our weekly parish mailing to avoid overstressing our maximum allowable emails allotted by our service provider. But I did not want to let St. John the Baptist – the 24th of June, sometimes known as “Old Midsummer,” and the date which marks the halfway point on the way to Christmas (which begins, as we all know, on its Eve) – get by without some recognition. Indeed, today is a date of vital importance to every Christian, because this date is why we celebrate Christmas when we do, in the first place!
Why? Because we are told, in St. Luke’s Gospel, that at the Annunciation, celebrated on March 25th – when Mary conceived our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ, being overshadowed by the Holy Ghost – her cousin Elizabeth was six months pregnant with John the Baptist. And there are numerous internal clues in the account there given which indicate that John’s conception would have been in late September/early October, near the time of the observance of the Feast of Tabernacles (Sukkot) and just after Yom Kippur (The Day of Atonement). Nine months from which is at or about… June 24th, the date on which the Church has traditionally celebrated his nativity!
As to the date of Jesus’ conception, the angel Gabriel comes to Mary and says, inter alia, “And, behold, thy cousin Elisabeth, she hath also conceived a son in her old age: and this is the sixth month with her, who was called barren. For with God nothing shall be impossible.” (Luke 1:36-37). Well, six months from late September would have been at or about March 25th, the traditional date on which the Annunciation is celebrated. And nine months from that is… even I can do this much math! … December 25th!
Whether it be the 24th or 25th – even late September vs early October (the latter date corresponding more closely with the Eastern Orthodox celebration of the Feast of the Nativity of our Lord in early January) – is of no practical consequence; as any mother can tell you, babies don’t necessarily hang out for precisely nine months to the day before being born. What matters is that it’s in the right ballpark, and that the traditional dating is accurate to within reasonable probabilities. See here or here for more details on the calculations above, which I have simplified for the sake of brevity.
And as I have written elsewhere, there are other pieces of evidence, external to the Scriptures, which indicate that it is certainly well within the realm of possibility that there were shepherds “abiding in the fields, keeping watch over their flocks by night” in late December. So the argument that our Lord’s birth “couldn’t” have occurred in December simply does not hold water. In fact, the probabilities are that it was, indeed, on or about the traditional date. Which makes today a very significant day indeed!
Atheists and agnostics like to say that we can’t “prove” the existence of God, and that may well be true (although neither is it possible to disprove it, a point many hard-core atheists either miss or willfully ignore… but I digress). But it is remarkable how often internal and external evidence conspire, as it were, to make the Scriptural account believable. And if it is believable in such things as this, does that not increase the likelihood that it is also believable, accurate, and trustworthy with regard to the deeper things, the fundamental theological truths it expresses, as well? I am certainly inclined to think so!
And with that I shall conclude this edition of “Rector’s Ramblings,” and wish everyone a Very Merry Half-Way to Christmas! 🙂
Faithfully yours in Christ,
Fr. Tom Harbold
P.S. It may be a little late for this year, but here are some fun suggestions for celebrating this feast day! May be worth filing away for next year…
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