“And you, my child, will be called prophet of the Most High, for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways, to give his people knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins.” (Luke 1:76-77)
St John the Baptist was the last of the great prophets of Israel and a relative of Christ. His birth was announced by the angel Gabriel to his father, St Zechariah. Like her ancestor Sarah, his mother St Elizabeth was also past childbearing age. However, true to the angel’s word, she did indeed fall pregnant. Gabriel told St Zechariah that the boy was to be named John and that he would prepare the people for Christ’s coming (Luke 1:11-17).
After discovering she was expecting the Christ Child, the Virgin Mary went to visit the pregnant St Elizabeth, who was her relative. When Mary arrived at the house and greeted St Elizabeth, the baby St John “leaped for joy” in her womb (Luke 1:44-45). This was the first meeting between St John the Baptist and Christ. The Virgin then stayed with St Elizabeth until the child was born, which was six months before the birth of Christ.
As St John grew up, he went to live in the desert, where he received God’s call. He then toured the countryside near the River Jordan, wearing a hair-shirt and preaching repentance. He baptised people in the river as a sign of their conversion to God. St John was, in the words of the prophet Isaiah: “The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths.” (Luke 4:4; cf Isaiah 40:3)
St John spoke of the coming of the Messiah, saying: “One who is far more powerful than I am is coming after me” and described Christ as “the Lamb of God” (Mark 1:7; John 1:29-30). Shortly afterwards, Christ came to St John to be baptised in the River Jordan and start his own public ministry (Mark 1:7-11). Later, St John was imprisoned by King Herod, who had him executed.
This stained glass image of St John the Baptist is found within St Mary’s, Ryde, on the Isle of Wight. Produced in the late 19th century by Nathaniel Westlake, it shows St John in the course of his preaching, wearing a hair-shirt and pointing to a symbol of Christ as the Lamb of God. This is a common way of picturing the saint, whose role was to prepare people for the coming Messiah.
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