June 21st is the Summer Solstice, the longest day of the year. The word solstice comes from two Latin words: sol meaning sun and sistere meaning to stand still. The Summer Solstice is the day that the sun is at its highest point above the Tropic of Cancer and to the early astronomers, it was the day the sun stood still. What I find interesting is how the early church chose to celebrate the day.
According to early Christian tradition, June 24th is the day that the sun begins to decline from its highest point. The early church chose this day to celebrate the birth of John the Baptist. John the Baptist was considered by the early Christians to mark the pinnacle of Old Testament history, the highest point before the Messiah. They saw John the Baptist as the last of the Old Testament prophets, equal to Elijah, their most important prophet.
On a separate note, the Winter Solstice became important to the early church as well. The sun reaches its lowest point on December 21st, beginning its gradual ascent around December 25th. The “ascent of the sun” was representative of Christ to the early Christians; therefore they chose December 25th as the day to celebrate the birth of Christ. It doesn’t take much comparison to realize that June 21st is not nearly as celebrated as December 25th. John the Baptist is not getting much attention these days. How should we celebrate John the Baptist for Summer Solstice today?
Technically, we should dress in camel’s hair clothing, belted at the waist. We should set up picnic tables in the desert and eat wild honey and locusts. But I live in Texas. If we planned this celebration on June 21st in my state, at least 8 people would suffer heat stroke with an additional 12 becoming dehydrated. That would definitely hurt any plans for next year’s event. There is little doubt about it, John the Baptist was an odd guy. On the other hand, if we had been living in the first century, we would have expected a prophet of God to dress, eat and act just like John. There is no doubt that he developed quite a following and many people were anxious to hear his message. What was that message?
John’s most famous message is recorded in Matthew 3:2: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.” The next verses say that, “people went out to him from Jerusalem and all Judea and the whole region of the Jordan. Confessing their sins, the were baptized by him in the Jordan river” (Matthew 3:5-6). **Note to the preachers: if your membership and baptism numbers are down, consider preaching shorter sermons…it worked for John.
John’s next sermon is interesting as well. The Pharisees and Sadducees kept showing up and I don’t think they liked John the Baptist any more than they liked Jesus – especially after they heard his next sermon, which by the way, was much longer. Matthew 3:7-12 is John’s message to the church leaders of the day: “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not think you can say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father. I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire. I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me will come one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not fit to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor, gathering his wheat into the barn and burning up the chaff with unquenchable fire.”
Are you beginning to understand why John’s birthday celebration became less popular over the years?? Actually, I think it is a great idea to take the longest day of the year, and think about John the Baptist and the message he came to give the world. If John could plan his birthday party he might suggest these activities:
Use the longest day of the year to repent of any sin that might be separating you from your heavenly Father. His Kingdom exists in any life that chooses for him to reign, just as he reigns in heaven. “Thy Kingdom come” means “thy will be done” on earth as it is in heaven. Spend the longest day in obedience to your King. John the Baptist would be glad you celebrated his message. And if you have slipped into performing your faith instead of living it, think of a deadly viper. A viper in that part of the country was a venomous snake who hid from view and its actions were deadly. If God is not King of your life, the viper probably is. Your life is either producing fruit (See Galatians 5:22-23) or it is hindering people from their eternal lives.
Celebrate John the Baptist’s birthday today. Put honey on a biscuit, turn the A/C up a few degrees and make God your King. Live controlled by God’s Spirit and your life will overflow with his love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Or, ignore John the Baptist’s birthday – and be a viper.
Phew, after that, I may even put on my winter coat and belt it tight! Where is the closest desert to Dallas??