At this early point, John the Baptist begins to fade into the background of the Gospel story. He performed his duty to perfection; he decreased while Jesus increased; he ended up in Herod’s prison for telling the truth about Herod’s marriage; and not long after, John was martyred for not succumbing to human authority and their ways of wrath, but won the victory for himself where light overcame the darkness he knew. John’s mission was made complete in the love and goodness of the God he served so faithfully. John the Baptist was a true soldier who died a soldier’s death for Christ. In the beginning, John leapt in the womb. At the end, John leapt from Herod’s dungeon to heaven.
Now, the one who increases is at center stage. Forever. He will remain there, performing this opera called The Gospel for the next three years in public, drawing sellout crowds through his words and miraculous healings.
At the center of this opera – still running by the way, a 2000-year stint – is the word “Repent.” Repent is not a word to be feared or run away from. We can and will make all sorts of comments as to why “Repent” can be an ugly four-letter word. But it’s a word and reality that brings internal peace, a new beginning, a centering of one’s path in life, a direction that follows John the Baptist to heaven and life eternal.
As the Lord increases and John decreases, as Christ enters center stage, staying there until he returns in glory, we carry on a twofold personal responsibility before the Increaser; first, to continually seek his repentance when needed so that his light may overcome our darkness. And second, that Christ remain at the center of our daily living. Especially when darkness is creeping up on us, or performs a nosedive into the light of our souls. Be it disease or illness, addiction, or one of the thousand ways the human body will suffer.
First, ‘Repent.” Or in the words of Jesus, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” That’s Jesus’ way of saying, “You are now looking at God in Person.” Repentance on its own is a frightful word. What the Lord does so mercifully is that he offers us the best reasons why we seek repentance. That repentance has positive reasons why it should be a continuous mindset for us.
I love it when people reveal how they say an Act of Contrition each night before they fall asleep. Is it a perfect Act of Contrition? It may be; it may not be. Only God knows that answer. But the person who prays an Act of Contrition each night, not knowing if they will still be in this world when the sun rises, that person’s heart is in a very good place with our Redeemer. Perfect or imperfect, the intention and humility are present.
But we don’t miss the reason why we seek repentance; “For the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” In other words, the light of Christ has – and continues to – overcome the darkness. His light is at hand. We don’t live like his light is not at hand. You have the light of Christ in your little Christian kingdom. And when that light begins to fade because of our choices, then “Repent.” Repentance returns light into our souls. And it doesn’t cost anything. It re-centers us for God’s work. And, it overcomes the darkness of the evil one who seeks to destroy us.
The second part of our twofold responsibility before the Increaser is the gate that John the Baptist leapt through after Herod ordered him to be dispatched. That he, the Increaser, remains at the center of our lives. That’s a solid gate for entering heaven one day.
We all have faith in Christ. If not, we wouldn’t be here. Even if there are present struggles, we still have faith in him. For some of us, our faith in him grows deeper because of our struggles. Still, we may be a little angry, a little mad, uncertain, or even feel ourselves losing the good grip of faith. But you’re not going to lose it. Are you going to become an atheist by dinner time? Allow yourself a most beautiful truth; that we have been blessed with the gift of faith.
Our faith in Christ will be tested in a thousand different ways along the way. Even the Apostles were unsure at times, but they stayed with the Increaser. Except for one of them; the purse-stealer who went his own way.
But we come to understand how the journey of faith increases over time, beginning with the call of Peter & Andrew, James & John. They leave their boats immediately, because they trust the power of the word who called them. The same One who has called us. Over time, there will be mishaps, some dumb statements by Peter and others, some running away, some questioning his authority, some telling him he will not carry a cross. They get in the way of God’s will for us.
But they last. They keep him at the center through their own repentance. And in the end, they have the faith of a Saint, which they become. And I suspect that more than a few of you good people have the faith of a Saint after many mishaps.
John the Baptist is removed from the scene, replaced by the Increaser. John lived his calling to perfection. But now Jesus is on stage. In our personal lives, our communities, our nation, and our world. Through your faith, allow his light to overcome the darkness through you. You are the land of Zebulon, the land of Naphtali, the way to the sea. You are the way to the Light that has arisen.