By: Dom Ruso, Lead Pastor at the180; Translation by: Nicholas Normandin
For some living in Quebec this is a weekend filled with emotional highs and lows. June 24th is both a celebration of the birth of John the Baptist (St-Jean, or St. John) and a national holiday for Quebecers. For those focused on the holiday, this day and weekend represent a celebration of Quebec's unique culture and its rich heritage.
Wherever you land on some of the larger issues related to his festival, you may have noticed that very few actually stop to consider the larger story and legacy of John the Baptist himself. Being born in Quebec, I can't remember ever being encouraged to learn about the story of John and what that might mean as a backdrop for the St-Jean celebration.
Having lived abroad for a few years, my return to Quebec has made me more attentive to the way people outside of Quebec think about this province and the things that we should be open to learning and reflecting on. I also think that churches and faith communities owe it to Quebecers to shine some light on what John the Baptist might have to teach us about being people proud to associate ourselves with his name.
A Symbolic Birthday
The Bible, as well as the Quran, provide insight into the story surrounding the birth of John. For Christians, John's life was a symbolic act of God's intervention to provide hope and freedom for his people. It was the in days of Herod, King of Judea, when a couple, now very old, were unable to have a child (Luke 1:5-25).
Their hopes and dreams of having a family of their own were over. But one day, God did the impossible. Having been visited by an angel, Zechariah, John's dad, was told that his wife Liz, although very old in age, would have a son and they should call him John. In addition, their boy would have a special role to play as part of God's larger plan.
Just as promised, nine months later, a little boy was in their midst. Fast forward and John's parents would soon see signs of the promise once made to them.
When God Is Up To Something New
John was a visionary! Put simply, he was relentless at inviting people to envision a new kingdom emerging. This was not an earthly kingdom. Seen as strange type of teacher, John became an unexpected voice calling people to prepare themselves for the new way of life that was on the horizon (Matthew 3:1-3).
Imagine how hard it would have been to convince people that something new was at hand in the midst of a politically charged and religiously broken system. He was persistent: God was up to something new that would transform a nation and John led the charge where many put up with the status quo.
Are You Ready for Something New?
One of the things people could do as a sign of commitment to what John was saying was a public act of baptism. Hence the name John the Baptist (or baptizer). John knew something we all know: talk is cheap. If you are in it to win it, his followers understood, the next step was to get baptized in water publicly as a sign that you wanted to see this new life and change permeate your own life.
As part of this ancient practice, which we still participate in today, John told people to admit they had made mistakes and needed to say sorry. The biblical word "repent" captures a little of that idea. John's audience learned that saying sorry was not just admitting to having a bad day, but admitting before God that selfish actions were the root of some of the problems they were dealing with. As part of this process John also told people, “'Anyone who has two shirts should share with the one who has none, and anyone who has food should do the same'” (Luke 3:11).
Everyone was invited to embrace change and be baptized, but to be ready since it came with a selfless way of life. I wonder how many of the challenges we face today would improve if we were willing to say sorry and then share with others?
The Day John's Life Changed
John had no idea that one day his life would also change forever. It was the day he realized that all the hard work had paid off-the day Jesus, the one he had been inviting people to prepare themselves for, came to visit him. When John realized that Jesus came ready to welcome his own baptism he remarked, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?" (Matthew 3:14).
While John never envisioned that one day a province in Canada would proudly use his name to celebrate a national holiday, he definitely lived a life worth remembering. And maybe, just maybe, the lessons of selfless sacrifice and visionary hope which eventually lead to his death, can provide us with some wisdom for how best to celebrate a holiday associated with the great St-Jean.
You can read this post in French here.
Also, be sure to join us for an exciting conversation happening this Sunday, June 26 at the180 at 10:30am - Unlearning to Listen: A Conversation with a Skeptic. You won't want to miss it!