I must decrease and he must increase.

This Sunday’s Gospel continues our meditation on the person and mission of John the Baptist. The Gospel text comprises two sections: the first presents an introduction to the mission of John the Baptist, the last of the prophets; and the second section speaks about how John the Baptist was a courageous witness of Christ.

The Gospel proclaims that John the Baptist was a man sent by God and given a mission like that of the prophets of old. The Baptist’s life, like the prophets of old, is characterised by an utter commitment and dedication to the mission entrusted to him. The “person” of the prophets, if you like, disappears behind the One who sent them. Hence, the Baptist proclaims: “He [Jesus] must increase and I must decrease.” In other words, John the Baptist’s purpose on earth was to exalt Christ, not himself.

John the Baptist completed the journey begun by the prophet Elijah. Just as Elijah proclaimed the advent of God’s kingdom, John the Baptist was the first to announce God’s promise of Christ, the Anointed. The Hebrew name “John” means God is merciful. Thus, out of mercy, God raised a prophet, John, for a world hostile to the message of salvation. John’s supreme mission was to “prepare the way of the Lord”; which, in fact, cost John his life. Jesus met the same fate as well.

In the Gospel, the Baptist is having a discourse with some Pharisees and assures them that he is not the Messiah. John was baptising people in the Jordan River. This was part of the preparations for the Messiah who was already in their midst, who would come to baptise in the Holy Spirit. However, this Messiah was not yet recognised by the Pharisees and others.

The figure of John the Baptist, in the Gospels, is that of a prophet who is completely conscious of the real nature of his vocation: a precursor, sent to prepare the way for the Lord. The Baptist understood the assignment: he faithfully embraced the lowest menial service: “I must decrease, and he must increase … I am not worthy to unfasten the sandal of the Master.” The Baptist’s mission of evangelisation was to prepare the hearts of men and women for the coming of the Messiah through repentance, so that humanity may attain salvation.

All of us, beloved, need to know that our God will surely come to save us. Even if we get discouraged along the way, we must never give up on the one true Messiah, who never abandons his flock. Gaudete! We rejoice because our salvation is at hand. As baptised and dedicated believers, growing in the faith is a life-long process, but we never do it alone. As such, we give gratitude to the Majesty of God.

The third Sunday of Advent is also called Gaudete Sunday. “Gaudete” comes from a Latin word which means “rejoice.” It is taken from the entrance antiphon for this Sunday’s Mass. This motif is echoed in today’s second reading from the first Letter to the Thessalonians. It reminds us that Advent is a period of joy for our salvation is already at hand. Gaudete!