He Must Increase

It must have been an interesting gathering for the circumcision of John the Baptist. The relatives presumed he would be named Zachariah after his father but Elizabeth insisted he was to be named John. That’s crazy, no one in the family has that name John. To settle the matter they ignored Elizabeth and asked Zachariah what the child’s name is to be. Zachariah wrote on a tablet, ‘his name is John.’ That’s it. Family and friends were stunned that a woman Elizabeth’s age was having a child. They were more than curious about Zachariah’s muteness. Suddenly Zachariah breaks into a song praising God. Family and friends sense there is more going on here than meets the eye. So the honest question is, ‘what then will child become, for indeed the hand of the Lord was upon him.’ And John grew and became strong in spirit.

In the year 380 the church of Rome decreed that Christmas was to be celebrated on December 25th and by the 5th century it was a common practice in the universal church. How that date was decided on is a matter of speculation. One theory is that there was a Roman feast of the unconquerable Sun celebrated at the time of the winter solstice. The Romans celebrate the fact that the sun was never conquered by darkness but began its ascent into lengthening days. The church took that pagan feast and, you might say, baptized it, gave it new meaning, because for Christians Christ is the unconquerable Son, Christ is the Light of the world.

In the third Chapter of John’s gospel he tells of the time when the ministry of John the Baptist and the ministry of Jesus seemed to collide or better still coincide. John’s disciples reported to him ‘the man who was with you on the far side of the Jordon, the man to whom you bore witness, is baptizing now and everyone is going to him.’ You can just hear their resentment toward Jesus in this complaint of John’s faithful followers. But John reminded them, ‘you yourselves can bear me out; I said I myself am not the Christ; I am the one who was sent before him. And then John says of Jesus, he must increase and I must decrease.’

The feast of John the Baptist is on June the 24th, 3 days after the summer solstice which we had last Wednesday. It’s the longest day of the year. But then the days begin, even imperceptibly to shorten. John’s words, ‘he must increase and I must decrease’ tie in with the very rhythm of nature itself. Maybe the church chose this date for his feast day with John’s words in mind, ‘he must increase and I must decrease.’

As we struggle to live our Christian lives we could make the words of John the Baptist our own; He must increase and I must decrease. All that is in our make up as men and women, all elements of our own personalities, elements in our relationships with others, our concerns for the poor and needy, anything in our lives that fails to imitate Christ and his teachings must decrease so that we can image Christ more in our lives. Through the strength of the Bread of Life we receive at the Mass give the strength to say, as Paul the Apostle said, ‘for me, to live is Christ… for Christ lives in me and the life I live I live trusting in the Son of God who loved me and gave his life for me.’