Jesus and John the Baptist 17th Century
Museum of Fine Arts BostonCorresponding to the Nativity of Jesus, Christmas Eve, six months from now, tonight is St. John’s Eve. The day of John the Baptist is tomorrow, corresponding to Christmas Day on the other end of the calendar.The lives of John the Baptist and of Jesus are entwined. The birth of John the Baptist, kept near the summer solstice, led ancient theologians to see the shortening of days as the “time” of John the Baptist, reflecting John’s statement that he must decrease. The birth of Jesus, arriving after the winter solstice, when the days get longer, is the “time” of Jesus.
In Scandinavia St John’s eve is an outdoor holiday and a celebration of life-in-renewal. Bonfires are lit to “assist” the sun as it begins to lose potency and, of course, to provide a visual focus for an all-night party. In a related ritual, fires are lit six months from now to “help” the sun increase its light and, again, for the party.
The Nativity of Jesus and the winter solstice is a consumer holiday for Americans like us, not a celebration of the earth. The Nativity of John the Baptist, at the summer solstice, is virtually unknown.
Maybe a hundred years from now our grandchildren will gather as Christians, outdoors, on this night, for a celebration of the eternal Logos (Christ), who according to John’s Gospel was there in the ancient pagan practices of greeting the light and begging it to stay.
26They came to John and said to him, ‘Rabbi, the one who was with you across the Jordan, to whom you testified, here he is baptizing, and all are going to him.’ 27John answered, ‘No one can receive anything except what has been given from heaven. 28You yourselves are my witnesses that I said, “I am not the Messiah, * but I have been sent ahead of him.” 29He who has the bride is the bridegroom. The friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice. For this reason my joy has been fulfilled. 30He must increase, but I must decrease.’ * John 3: 25-30