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The Rudolf Steiner Archive

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Solstice & John the Baptist

The Forerunner of the Christ

Giuliano Bugiardini - The Birth of John the Baptist

June 19, 2023

June 21st is both the Solstice and St. John’s Day—the celebration of the birth of John the Baptist six months before the birth of Jesus. The June Solstice marks the longest day of the year in the Northern Hemisphere. The Sun reaches its highest point in the sky as the North Pole is closest to the Sun. Then, 6 months later, during the December Solstice, we celebrate the birth of Jesus in the darkness of winter when the North Pole is farthest from the Sun.

As depicted in Bugiardini's masterpiece, The Birth of John the Baptist, the pregnant Virgin Mary was present at the birth of John. She is shown with a halo together with her likewise haloed relatives, the previously barren Elizabeth, and her elderly husband Zechariah, who was a well-known priest. The first chapter of the Gospel of Luke describes the event in detail.

  • First, the angel Gabriel appeared to the elderly priest Zechariah and told him that he and his barren wife Elizabeth would have a son named John who would “make ready for the Lord a prepared people.”
  • Zechariah questioned how this could be since both he and his wife Elizabeth were advanced in years. Because of his disbelief, Gabriel made him unable to speak so he had to communicate in writing.
  • The angel Gabriel then announced to Mary that she would bear a child named Jesus, called the Son of the Most High.
  • Six months later, Mary visited Elizabeth in Judea. When she greeted Elizabeth, the babe John “leaped in her womb and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit.”
  • The pregnant Mary then stayed with Zechariah and the expecting Elizabeth for 3 months before returning home.
  • Zechariah remained mute until the birth of the child. When Zechariah announced his name would be John rather than being named after himself, he was blessed with the ability to speak again. People were amazed and word spread throughout Judea.

From this account, one can see the extent of the spiritual connection between John and Jesus and the divine forces already at work. Through the news of the miraculous healing of Zechariah, the way was already being prepared for the birth of Jesus six months later.

Jesus and John were related by family and in spirit.

Not only were Mary and Elizabeth relatives as told in Luke 1:36, Steiner teaches there was a profound spiritual relationship between Jesus and John.

The John-Ego descended from the same holy region (Stätte) as that from which the soul-being of the Jesus-child of the Gospel of St. Luke descended, save that upon Jesus there were chiefly bestowed qualities not yet permeated by an Ego in which egoistic traits had developed: that is to say, a young soul was guided to the place where the reborn Adam was to incarnate. […]

[T]he same Ego that was withheld from the Jesus of the Gospel of St. Luke was bestowed upon the body of John the Baptist; thus the soul-being in Jesus of the Gospel of St. Luke and the Ego-being in John the Baptist were inwardly related from the beginning.

See THE GOSPEL OF ST. LUKE, GA 114, Lecture 5

Normally, an Ego becomes slowly activated in an embryo, but John’s quickened immediately upon the greeting of the pregnant Mary to Elizabeth.

In the case of John, however, the Ego in question was inwardly related to the soul-being of the Nathan Jesus. Hence according to the Gospel of St. Luke, the mother of Jesus went to the mother of John the Baptist when the latter was in the sixth month of her pregnancy, and the embryo that in other cases is quickened by its own Ego was here quickened through the medium of the other embryo. The child in the body of Elisabeth begins to move when the mother bearing the Nathan Jesus-child approaches; and it is the Ego through which the child in the other mother (Elisabeth) is quickened. (Luke I, 39–44). Such was the deep connection between the Being who was to bring about the fusion of the two spiritual streams and the other who was to announce His coming! GA 114, Lecture 5

John, an old soul, prepared the way for the Christ in the ego-less Jesus of Luke—ushering out the old Law of Moses and announcing a new covenant.

Steiner explains in his lectures on The Gospel of St. Luke that John was “herald of the Being who was to come in Jesus.” John prepared the way for the Christ to come by first summarizing “the infinite power everything contained in the old Law.” He says:

What the Baptist wished to bring home to men was that there must be observance of what was written in the old Law but had grown old in civilization and had been forgotten; it was mature, but was no longer heeded. Therefore what John required above all was the power possessed by a soul born as a mature — even overmature — soul into the world. He was born of old parents; from the very beginning his astral body was pure and cleansed of all the forces which degrade man, because the aged parents were unaffected by passion and desire. There again, profound wisdom is expressed in the Gospel of St. Luke. GA 114, Lecture 5

He further states, “We know from the Gospel itself that John the Baptist is to be regarded as the reborn Elijah.” Thus, he was well-equipped to preach about the old Law of Moses. Then with the additional impulse of the Buddha, he heralded a new path:

Buddha imparted to mankind what the human soul can find as its own law and obey in order to purify itself and thus reach the highest level of morality attainable on Earth. The ‘Law of the Soul’ — Dharma — was proclaimed through Buddha in such a way that at the highest stage of development attainable by human nature, man can discover it himself, in his own soul. Buddha was the first to reveal it.

Under the influence of the visit of her who is there called ‘Mary’, the Ego of John the Baptist awoke into activity. The Nirmanakaya of Buddha was here working upon the Ego of the former Elijah — now the Ego of John the Baptist — wakening it and penetrating right into the physical substance.

Knowing that these Beings appear on the physical plane at different turning-points of time, we learn to understand the unity of religions and the spiritual proclamations made to mankind. We shall not realize who and what Buddha was by clinging to tradition but by listening to how he actually speaks. Five to six hundred years before our era, Buddha preached the Sermon at Benares, but his voice has not been silenced. He speaks, although no longer incarnated, when he inspires through the Nirmanakaya. From the mouth of John the Baptist we hear what the Buddha had to say six hundred years after he had lived in a physical body.

See THE GOSPEL OF ST. LUKE, GA 114, Lecture 6

John facilitated the descent of the Christ into Jesus through His baptism.

John preached the Word of God and baptized believers with water as part of a spiritual initiation process. It was not a drizzle of water like baptisms today. Rather, the disciple was held under water to provoke a near-death experience.

The disciple was submerged in water, resulting in a certain separation of the etheric from the physical body; and thus he could attain to a survey of his life and become aware of the connection of this individual life with the regions of the divine-spiritual world. To make it a little clearer, we can say that when the submersion was successful it produced in the disciple the conviction: I have spirit within me; I am not just a being in this physical-material body; and this spirit within me is one with the spirit underlying all things. — And he knew in addition that the Spirit Whom he thus confronted was the same that Moses had perceived in the fire of the burning bush and in the lightning on Sinai as Jahve, as I am the I AM, as ehjeh asher ehjeh. All this was revealed to him through the baptism by John.

See THE GOSPEL OF ST. JOHN, IN RELATION TO THE OTHER THREE GOSPELS, GA 112, Lecture 7, The Baptism with Water and the Baptism with Fire and Spirit.

When Jesus of Nazareth was 30 years old, he came to John and was baptized in the same process of submersion.

Even in everyday existence it may happen that when a man is in danger of drowning, or sustains a violent shock, a tableau of his life hitherto appears before him. This is because something that otherwise takes place only after death, occurs momentarily: the etheric body is lifted out of the physical body and is freed from its power. This happened to most of those who were baptized by John, and in a very special way to the Nathan Jesus. His etheric body was drawn out — and during that moment the sublime Being we call the Christ descended into his body.See GA 114, Lecture 7.

Filled with the Christ, Jesus began his three-year journey to Golgotha, and ultimately to His ascension. The Gospel of Matthew tells us John preached of the coming Redeemer greater than himself who would baptize disciples directly with the fire, like the burning bush and lightning on Mt. Sinai, and with the Holy Spirit to come. (Matthew 3:11) Steiner expounds upon this further:

John baptized with water, with the result that the etheric body was disconnected for a short time from the physical body. But John the Baptist claimed to be the Forerunner of Him Who baptized with fire and with the Holy Spirit. The baptism with fire and with the Holy Spirit came to our earth through Christ. See GA 112, Lecture 7.

The Sun Solstice Connection

The celebration of John's birth on Summer Solstice can be viewed as the beginning of the descent of the Christ from the Sun to the earthly realm. The Sun then begins to decrease in day light and days become shorter until winter solstice, the shortest amount of day light. The birth of Jesus can then be seen as life-giving light being born in the cold, dark winter of the material world. Thus, as reflected in nature, John the Baptist says in the Gospel of John, "He must increase, but I must decrease."

John, the herald of the coming Christ, of the Spiritual Light, whose festival day falls in the course of the year in mid-summer — John must decrease, and simultaneously with his decrease the force of the coming light waxes, increasing in strength as John decreases. In like manner the new, the coming life prepares itself in the seed that must wither and decay in order that the new plant may spring forth from it. The pupils of the Mysteries were to experience that in death life resides, that out of decaying matter the new, glorious blossoms and fruits of spring arise, that the earth teems with the forces of birth. They were to learn that at this time something happens in the inner being of the earth — the overcoming of death by life that is present in death. This was shown them in the conquering light.

See Signs and Symbols of the Christmas Festival, Lecture III.

John the Baptist was executed before the crucifixion. The Christ then fully embodied Jesus to accomplish the Mystery of Golgotha. Jesus Himself said of John, "Truly, I say to you, among those born of women there has risen none greater than John the Baptist." (Matthew 11:11)

These excerpts offer only a glimpse of the wealth of information provided by Steiner regarding John the Baptist, St. John’s Festival, and the Solstices. Visit the Festivals Topic Page to find select lectures for each season.