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Next year, on May 5, 2018, the South Carolina Band Directors Associate will hold the performance of the 2017-2018 South Carolina All-State Band. High School band students throughout the state will be competing for chairs in order to be selected as part of this grand ensemble, performing next year at Irmo High School, west of Columbia.

Great preparation takes place when competing to be part of this select group of musicians. Most of the students take private lessons from an expert on their particular instrument, whether it be trumpet, clarinet, flute, tuba, or another concert band instrument.

There are three parts to the auditioning process: First students must memorize and play a select group of scales well, then a prepared piece of music, and lastly, sight-reading a piece of music that the musician has never seen before.

As much as the teacher's private lessons help the student with the ability to play one's respective instrument, eventually the musician has to perform on his or her own at the audition without the aid of the teacher.

And if he or she has listened well, and prepared well, there is a good chance of making it into the All-State Band.

Today we have the solemnity of the Nativity of John the Baptist. If we listen to John the Baptist, and prepare well based on his message, we will be ready to receive Jesus worthily at this Eucharistic banquet.

John the Baptist was not just an important teacher in the spiritual life, he was a herald. A herald proclaims important news that all are bound to listen to.

Jesus and John the Baptist are always closely linked together. John is the herald of the message, and Jesus is the message incarnate.

Now there are certainly parallels between Jesus's birth and the birth of John the Baptist.

1.) Both births were preceded by an announcement by the angel, Gabriel. 2.) Both Mary and Zechariah are troubled by the vision. 3.) Both are told by the angel not to fear. 4.) Both Mary and Zechariah seem to question the announcement.

"How can this be since I have no relations with a man?" "How shall I know this, for I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in years?"'

5.) For both, a sign is given to confirm the announcement. a.) sign for Mary - Elizabeth's pregnancy b.) sign for Zechariah - He becomes mute.

Traditionally, we say that Mary believed the angel whereas Zechariah did not. This is puzzling since both Mary and Zechariah both seem to question the angel.

The Church's interpretation that Mary believed whereas Zechariah doubted comes from the angel Gabriel's pronouncement of the signs. The angel must have had some insight that's not necessarily evident in the context of the words of Mary and Zechariah. Mary believes whereas Zechariah doubts.

In today's Gospel, Zechariah finally opens up as we visit the circumcision of John the Baptist. Circumcision during Old Testament times was essentially a sacrament of initiation. The ritual linked the Jew to covenant with Abraham.

At the circumcision of the Jewish people it was tradition that a chair was left open for Elijah, who became traditionally known as the "angel of the covenant."

In the last book of the Old Testament, Malachi, the prophet proclaims that Elijah will come first. In the Gospel of Matthew, Chapter 11 verse 14, Jesus says that John was the one who is to come before the Savior. It's interesting this parallel between Elijah and John since both are linked to sacraments of initiation. Elijah is the messenger of circumcision, and John is the messenger of baptism.

John says to his disciples: “He must increase, and I must decrease.”

And so the feast day itself purposely takes place right around the summer solstice. Of course the nativity of the Christ child takes place at the winter solstice, with the birth of Christ gradually bringing more and more light into the world.

Again, we see this close relationship between the messenger and the message.

John represents a period of preparation, where Jesus represents the period of reception. Much of our liturgical calendar works this way: Think of Advent/Christmas, and Lent/Easter seasons. There is a period of preparation and repentance, and a period of reception and glory.

Mass - preparation and reception.

In the middle ages, the trumpeters were also known as heralds. They announced formally that the king had arrived. We celebrate today the special birth of the greatest herald, the greatest prophet in salvation history, who authentically pointed to and revealed the Christ to all of us.

John the Baptist is the important teacher that the Father sent to all of us to herald the coming of His Son, Jesus Christ.

We need to ask ourselves the following three questions:

Have we listened? Have we prepared? And have we announced the Gospel message to others?

"Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight His paths."

We want to make the band, the band of the saints and heavenly hosts.

At some point the preparation time will end, and we will be judged. Will we be ready?

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