A Sermon by St. Augustine the Bishop
In addition to the holy Nativity of the Lord, we find celebrated in the Gospel only one other birth, namely, that of blessed John Baptist. As for all others among God’s holy and chosen ones, we know that for their feast is observed the day whereon, with their work finished, and the world conquered and finally trampled down, they were born from this to a better life, even into everlasting blessedness. Thus in others is honored the day on which their merits were completed, that is, the last day of their dying life. But is John is honored the first day, for in him the very beginning is found hallowed. And the reason that the Nativity of John is so much made of in Scripture is, without doubt, that the Lord wished John to be an attestation to his own first coming ; for if Christ had come too suddenly and unexpectedly, men might not have recognized him. And on this wise John was a figure of the Old Testament, and shewed in his own person a typical embodiment of the Law ; for he heralded beforehand the coming of the Saviour, even as the Law was our schoolmaster to bring us to the grace of Christ.
As a type of the Law, he prophesied while yet in the hidden depths of his mother’s womb ; yea, while he himself was lightless, he bore testimony to the light of the Truth. This was, as it were, a presage of what he later did, for while he himself was wrapped round with the veil and carnal ordinances of the letter, he by the spirit preached unto the world a Redeemer, and testified that Jesus is our Lord. And this he did whole working under the Law, whereby so far as he himself was concerned, the birth of the new dispensation was still in the womb of the future, and not come to light of day. The Jews were estranged from the womb, that is from the Law, that womb heavy with the Christ that was to be ; they were forward, even from their mother’s womb, and went astray as soon as they were born, speaking lies. Therefore John came for a witness, to bear witness of the Light, that all men through him might believe.
On another occasion also we may recognize the person of John as a figure of the Law ; namely, at the time when John heard in the prison the works of Christ, and sent two of his disciples unto him. Wherein we are minded of the Law which must needs defer to the Gospel, for the Law was (as it were) imprisoned in ignorance, lying in the dark, and in a hidden place, and fettered, through Jewish misunderstanding, within the bonds of the letter. But also of the blessed Baptist John was said by the blessed Evangelist John : he was a burning and a shining light. That is to say, when the whole world was wrapt in the night of ignorance, the Baptist was kindled by the fire of the Holy Ghost, to shew before men the light of salvation, and at the hour of the thickest darkness of sin, to appear like a bright morning star to herald the rising of that Sun of righteousness, Christ our Lord. And this is why John said f himself : I an the voice of one crying in the wilderness, Make straight the way of the Lord.
Almighty God, by whose providence thy servant John Baptist was wonderfully born, and sent to prepare the way of thy Son our Saviour by preaching 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 thy Son Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.