On June 24, we celebrate the birthday of the cousin and precursor of Jesus Christ, St John the Baptist. Today we examine why June 24.
The most simplistic reason is that it is 6 months before the birth of Christ. If you will remember, on March 25, the Annunciation, the angel Gabriel told Mary that her relative, Elizabeth, was 6 months pregnant. Mary conceived upon agreeing to this honor. On that day. If the Child was born on December 25, the child, John would have to have been born six months previous.
The most symbolic reason used is that June 24 is the summer solstice. Every day after that, the sun sets a little sooner, making there be less light in the world. The concept is that John would be a great light that dimmed over time and the Child Jesus would be the great light that increased over time, having been born on the winter solstice.
However, there is a third reason why June 24 was chosen. Now, follow this explanation closely:
Zecharias, the father of John the Baptist, was a Levite (descendant of Aaron), as was his wife. He was also one of the 7000 Jewish priests living in Israel at the time. These 7000 Levites were divided into 24 clans, per David, hundreds of years before. Zecharias belonged to the Abijah clan. Now, priests work in the temple. Each clan was assigned two weeks a year to work there. The Abijah clan, according to research, served during the second week of the Jewish month of Tishri. This is the very important week of the Day of the Atonement which was always the 10th day of Tishri. This day translates in modern calendars to September 22-October 8, depending on the year.
The week that the priests were assigned to the temple, they stayed overnight in cubicles built for the purpose, on temple grounds. Their families stayed at home. So, Zecharias did not see his wife until he returned from his tour of duty. Of course, he could not speak or hear when he got home. His doubt of Gabriel’s words caused him to be deaf and mute until the child’s name was announced 8 days after his birth.
At any rate, Elizabeth, an older woman, conceived her son shortly after Zecharias returned. Some historians say that, once she realized she was pregnant, she went to the hill country. The couple may have had a “country home” there, or, perhaps they lived a more convenient country life away from the busy city. Tradition holds that the place is Ein Karem, now a neighborhood on the Southwest side of Jerusalem. But, then, it was a separate hamlet. Mary would have known about it and found her relative after walking from Nazareth, an 80 mile trip.
Since St. Luke says that Mary went to Elizabeth’s in haste, we can assume that she left Nazareth within days of the Annunciation, probably telling Joseph of the circumstances. She arrived within days and stayed with Elizabeth until the child’s birth, according to tradition. Mary probably watched the miracle that took place when Zacharias wrote the child’s name and suddenly could hear and speak again. Mary then left the home of her cousins and went back to Nazareth to prepare for the birth of her own child.
It is interesting to note that Ein Karem is only 7.5 miles from Bethlehem. We can assume that the child, John, and his mother, Elizabeth, would have visited Mary, Joseph and the baby Jesus before the escape to Egypt. Some stories show that Herod went after many babies within miles of Bethlehem. One story says that Zecharias was killed at the temple for not disclosing his son’s whereabouts.
This story shows a much broader picture of Jesus’ family life than we usually contemplate.
Happy birthday, St. John the Baptist.