Below is my Thought for the Day broadcast on Radio Kent this morning.
Today, 24th June, is kept throughout the Christian world as the birthday of Saint John the Baptist. In many countries, the night before 24th June, St John’s Eve, midsummer night’s eve, is celebrated with bonfires, taken over perhaps from a pagan commemoration of the summer solstice, but now symbolizing the beacon of light which the words of John the Baptist were.
John the Baptist, a distant cousin of Jesus, was, the Bible tells us, born miraculously to parents beyond child-bearing age. His mother Elizabeth was visited by Mary while both were pregnant, and John ‘leapt’ in his mother’s womb on being in the presence of the unborn Jesus. John is thought of as the last of the succession of prophets who sensed the imminent arrival of the Saviour. As a young man he lived in the wilderness, fasting, surviving on wild honey and locusts, dressing in animal skins, and must to ‘decent people’ have seemed at best an eccentric, if not completely deranged. Yet his words seem strangely relevant to our troubled economic times: “Anyone who has two shirts should share with the one who has none, and anyone who has food should do the same.” And again, “Don’t extort money and don’t accuse people falsely — be content with your pay.”
When asked by curious and faintly hostile onlookers who exactly he is, he replies by quoting an earlier Jewish prophet, Isaiah: “I am the voice of one calling in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way for the Lord.’” A prophet is more than one who simply foretells the future. Prophets read with deep insight the signs of the times and speak the truth, which often jars with what people want to hear.
The Burmese freedom campaigner, Aung Sang Su Kyi, this week formally accepted the Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo originally awarded to her over 20 years ago. She has spent much of the intervening period under arrest in Burma. In a remarkable acceptance speech, this extraordinary woman reflected on the importance of the quest for peace in our lives:
“Absolute peace in our world is an unattainable goal. But it is one towards which we must continue to journey, our eyes fixed on it as a traveller in a desert fixes his eyes on the one guiding star that will lead him to salvation.”
When asked about this later in an interview, she said that we must find peace in our hearts before we can hope to make peace in the world. True peace begins with the individual, and is much more than the absence of conflict.
On this birthday of St John the Baptist, then, perhaps we should make a greater effort to hear the prophetic voices of our own time, and listen to those who call to us from beyond the confines of our everyday world.