Paul said that John heralded the coming of the Messiah by proclaiming a baptism of repentance in preparation for Jesus' entry onto the world stage.
If they are to be effective, stages need lighting.
Johnís job was to spotlight Jesus ...to identify him as the promised saviour, the Messiah who would lead Godís chosen people into an ever deepening relationship with God.
Early in Chapter 49, Isaiah announced that they, the chosen people of God, were destined one day to become, "A light for all nations ...so that salvation might reach to the ends of the earth."
Having accepted Christ, they would witness, like the Olympic torch runners, passing the torch from nation to nation.
It is true that, initially, a very small minority believed in Jesus but their impact was and remains immeasurable.
It began with John with one foot in the Old Testament era and the other making the first prophetic impression in the New.
He alone had the right credentials.
He was known as a deeply spiritual person who spoke with authority and conviction.
He had his own substantial following. In fact, several of Jesus' key disciples had had their money on him to be the Messiah.
And so today we celebrate his birthday.
We celebrate it at the summer solstice, when the sun is at its highest point in the sky, and we celebrate Christmas at the winter solstice, when the sun is lowest.
John is the great, bright beacon pointing to the light that humbly emerges to conquer the darkness.
We ought to be thankful to John. Thankful for many things.
For example, thankful for his showing us that we can be forceful and humble at the same time, in itself a priceless lesson.
But most of all thankful for preparing the way for Jesus to enter into OUR lives, TODAY through the miracle of the Eucharist.