THE PROPHECY of ISAIAH
Thus saith the Lord: Comfort ye, comfort ye My people, saith God. Speak ye, priests, unto the heart of Jerusalem, cry unto her that her humiliation is at an end, since her iniquity is pardoned, for she hath received of the Lord’s hand double for her sins. The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness: Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make straight the paths for our God. Get thee up into the high mountain, O Zion, that bringest good tidings; lift up thy voice with strength, O Jerusalem, that bringest good tidings, lift it up, be not afraid: I am the Lord God, I will hear the poor of Israel and will not forsake them, but will cause rivers to flow in high places and fountains in the midst of the fields. I will turn the wilderness into meadow and the dry land into water-springs. Let heaven above rejoice and let clouds sprinkle down righteousness; let the earth shine and let mercy shoot forth and let righteousness spring up together. With a voice of singing declare ye, and let it be heard, utter it even to the end of the earth, say ye: The Lord hath redeemed His servant Jacob, and if they thirst in the wilderness, He will cause water to flow out of the rock for them. Sing, O barren one, thou that didst not bear, break forth into singing and cry aloud, thou that didst not travail, for more are the children of the desolate than the children of the married wife.
-A reading for the Feast of the Beheading of John the Baptist
Recently there has been an increase in Christian martyrdom by beheading, but that is not what the title of my post refers to. It is a phrase from the hymnography of the Orthodox Church for the commemoration of the Beheading of John the Baptist, which we who use the Gregorian Calendar remember on August 29 every year.
John was the Forerunner of Christ, and his preaching of repentance prepared many hearts to receive Christ. You might say that John got involved with politics when he spoke up about the governor Herod’s unlawful relationship with his brother’s wife Herodias. It doesn’t appear that they had asked for his opinion, but Herodias was angry enough about it that she asked Herod, via her dancing daughter Salome, for John’s head on a platter, which was granted. In the Gospel of Mark is one passage that recounts these events.
The hymns lament that Herod and Herodias missed their opportunity to repent and gain eternal life, but rejoice that God was glorified by the prophet’s death as well as by his life, and speak of John continuing to preach repentance even to the souls in Hades.
Icon Reader tells in depth about the iconography of John the Baptist, who is often pictured with wings. These symbolize the fact that he was a prophet or messenger from God. He is also called an “angel of the desert,” because like angels he was not involved in normal mundane things. The icon I show here is my own; when I received it as a gift it was the first time I saw that John is holding his own head on the platter. Some Orthodox do not eat anything from a plate, or anything round, on this day, and we all keep a fast in St. John’s honor.
I have a particular interest in the Glorious Forerunner’s beheading because the saint whose name I bear, Joanna, was married to Chuza, Herod’s steward, and is reported to have used her connections to retrieve the head so that it could be given an honorable burial.
We are waiting for Christmas, for the Incarnation of Christ, not that I think that is what Wyeth is referring to in the quote below; for nature’s Spring we have to wait months more.
But Christ is our “Dayspring from on high,” as Zacharias foretold when prophesying about his son John the Forerunner who had just been born:
And thou, child, shalt be called the prophet of the Highest: for thou shalt go before the face of the Lord to prepare his ways; to give knowledge of salvation unto his people by the remission of their sins, through the tender mercy of our God; whereby the dayspring from on high hath visited us, to give light to them that sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace. (Luke 1)
I’m feasting on that thought today, how every morning Christ wants to be our souls’ Warmth and Light, like the life-giving sun of spring and summer, no matter what the weather outside.
I prefer winter and fall, when you feel the bone structure of the landscape –
the loneliness of it, the dead feeling of winter.
Something waits beneath it, the whole story doesn’t show.