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Christians have long interpreted the life of John the Baptist as a preparation f

or the coming of Jesus Christ, and the circumstances of his birth, as recorded i
n the New Testament, are miraculous. John's pivotal place in the gospel is seen
in the emphasis Luke gives to the announcement of his birth and the event itselfb
oth made prominently parallel to the same occurrences in the life of Jesus.[1]
The sole biblical account of the birth of John the Baptist comes from the Gospel
of Luke. Johns parents, Zechariah or Zachary a Jewish priest and Elizabeth, were
without children and both were beyond the age of child-bearing. During Zecharia
h's rotation to serve in the Temple in Jerusalem, he was chosen by lot to offer
incense at the Golden Altar in the Holy Place. The Archangel Gabriel appeared to
him and announced that he and his wife would give birth to a child, and that th
ey should name him John. However, because Zechariah did not believe the message
of Gabriel, he was rendered speechless until the time of John's birth.[2] At tha
t time, his relatives wanted to name the child after his father, and Zechariah w
rote, "His name is John", whereupon he recovered his ability to speak (Luke 1:5-
25; 1:57-66). Following Zechariah's obedience to the command of God, he was give
n the gift of prophecy, and foretold the future ministry of John (Luke 1:67-79).
Liturgical Celebrations[edit]
At the Annunciation, when the Archangel Gabriel appeared to the Virgin Mary to i
nform her that she would conceive of the Holy Ghost Jesus. He also informed her
that Elizabeth, her cousin, was already six months pregnant (Luke 1:36). Mary th
en journeyed to visit Elizabeth. Lukes Gospel recounts that the baby leapt in Eliza
beths womb at the greeting of Mary (Luke 1:44).
The Nativity of St John the Baptist on June 24 comes three months after the cele
bration on March 25 of the Annunciation, when the Archangel Gabriel told Our Lad
y that her cousin Elizabeth was in her sixth month of pregnancy,[3] and six mont
hs before the Christmas celebration of the birth of Jesus. The purpose of these
festivals is not to celebrate the exact dates of these events, but simply to com
memorate them in an interlinking way. The Nativity of St. John the Baptist antic
ipates the feast of Christmas.[4]
The Nativity of St John the Baptist is one of the oldest festivals of the Christ
ian church, being listed by the Council of Agde in 506 as one of that region's p
rincipal festivals, where it was a day of rest and, like Christmas, was celebrat
ed with three Masses: a vigil, at dawn, and at midday.[5]
In Western Christianity[edit]
Ordinarily the day of a saint's death is usually celebrated as his or her feast
day, because that day marks his entrance into heaven. To this rule there are two
notable exceptions: the birthday of the Blessed Virgin Mary and that of St John
the Baptist. Mary, already in the first moment of her existence, was free from
original sin (her conception itself is commemorated by a separate feast), while
John was cleansed of original sin in the womb of his mother.[4]
The Nativity of St John the Baptist, though not a widespread public holiday outs
ide of Quebec, is a high-ranking liturgical feast, kept in the Roman Catholic, A
nglican and Lutheran Churches. Since in the Roman Rite it is celebrated since 19
70 as a Solemnity, in the 1962 form of that liturgical rite as a feast of the fi
rst class and in still earlier forms as a Double of the First Class with common
Octave, it takes precedence over a Sunday on which it happens to fall. The Refor
med and free churches give this celebration less prominence.
Since the day was celebrated in Lutheran Leipzig, Johann Sebastian Bach composed
three church cantatas for the occasion:
Ihr Menschen, rhmet Gottes Liebe, BWV 167, 24 June 1723
Christ unser Herr zum Jordan kam, BWV 7, 24 June 1724
Freue dich, erlste Schar, BWV 30, 24 June 1738 or a later year