On 24th June each year the Church observes the birth of John the Baptist. All four gospels give an account of John the Baptist, but I love the way Mark’s gospel opens with the proclamation: “The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God…” and goes on to describe John as “…the voice of one crying out in the wilderness: Prepare the way of the Lord…” There is such energy, passion and commitment to the message John is bringing to the people; and it is the message, not the messenger, which takes centre stage. “Prepare the way of the Lord…The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me…”
In many parts of northern Europe there is a tradition of keeping St. John’s Eve on 23rd June. Bonfires and beacons are lit at sunset and there is great celebration and feasting. The origins of this tradition were most likely pre-Christian; a pagan ritual of lighting bonfires to give strength to the Sun as the summer solstice heralds the change of season when the days begin to shorten. Tradition places John’s birth at midsummer and Jesus’ birth in mid-winter; the former when days are shortening and the latter when days are lengthening (in the northern hemisphere). So there is a resonance with John’s beautiful statement that “[Jesus] must increase, but I must decrease.” John’s task is to point to the light, not stand in its way – a good lesson for all Christians.
And there is something else we might notice; John was a voice crying out in the wilderness. Not in the midst of polite society. Not in church. As Barbara Brown Taylor says: “If we only listen for God in church, we will miss half the message.” Where might we listen for God, and join in with what God is up to in the world? How might we prepare the way of the Lord who is to come into our hearts?
On Sunday 23rd June St. John the Baptist Church, Foxham is celebrating its patronal festival with a bring and share picnic. Parishioners from Foxham, Bremhill and Derry Hill are warmly invited to join the celebrations. We are meeting at the church at 5.30pm before making our way past Foxham Lock and up the hill at Elm Farm. The views are magnificent and well worth the walk. Transport will be available for those who need it. (Wet weather option is at the Reading Room) We hope you can join us for food, fun and fellowship…and a bit of listening for God’s voice.