Almighty God, by whose providence thy servant Saint John the Baptist was wonderfully born, and sent to prepare the way of thy Son our Saviour, by preaching of repentance: make us so to follow his doctrine and holy life, that we may truly repent according to his preaching; and after his example constantly speak the truth, boldly rebuke vice, and patiently suffer for the truth’s sake; through the same Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, ever one God, world without end. Amen.
A reading from the sermons of Blessed Isaac of Stella
This Birthday is more of a celebration than the feasts of other saints precisely because it is so clearly symbolic and prophetic. Since by his preaching and baptizing, yes, and by his way of living, and by the manner of his death and the miracle of his birth the Voice foretold the Word, the Forerunner ran before the Lord, the Prophet prefigured the Coming One, the More-than-a-Prophet actually pointed out the actual Lord, the Messenger was able to pick out the very One he heralded, and not just for the benefit of those in this world but for those in the other one.
So it was that one born contrary to the laws of nature prefigured to some extent the One who would be born beyond such laws; the former against the normal, the latter beyond the natural; the unusual in the first case, the unique in the other. While there had never been an instance of the latter, there had been a few of the former. Elizabeth’s sterility partly prefigured Mary’s virginity. There is pregnant sterility on the one hand, fruitful virginity on the other. The old wife brought forth an only son for the sake of the one and only Son the young virgin gave birth to.
John’s father was decrepit with age. Christ’s Father knows nothing of age. For just as the lack of any Scripture genealogy for Melchizedek typifies the indescribable birth of Christ, Zachary’s old age suggests Christ’s not having a human father. An old man begets in the former, no man begets in the latter instance. The one unable to beget by nature did so by grace; neither nature nor grace did any begetting when the Giver of grace and nature’s Maker alone effected everything.
Thus it was only right that the foreshadowing should ever decrease and the actual fact should ever increase. Shadows, as you now, are longer at morning and evening, and shorter at midday than the bodies that cast them. This holds when morning stands for prophecy, evening for memory and midday or the actuality of Christ. Consequently it was for John to grow less while Christ grew greater, for Christ to be lifted up in death while John became less by decapitation, for Christ to be born as day increased, and John as day decreased.