“They came to John and said to him, “Rabbi, the one who was with you across the Jordan, to whom you testified, here he is baptizing, and all are going to him.” John answered, “No one can receive anything except what has been given from heaven. You yourselves are my witnesses that I said, ‘I am not the Messiah, but I have been sent ahead of him. He who has the bride is the bridegroom. The friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice. For this reason my joy has been fulfilled. He must increase, but I must decrease.'”
“He must increase, but I must decrease.” These powerful words of John the Baptist are words I need to keep close to my heart. They are words that cut across the grain of my natural inclination to seek recognition, distinction, influence, and importance. How easy it is for many of us pastors to fall into the trap of self-importance. The very nature of our work makes us vulnerable to the temptation of placing ourselves at the center of everything. We tell ourselves that we are doing the Lord’s work and advancing the Kingdom. Maybe we are; but a lot of times, it is also about us, our ambitions, our hopes, and our personal advancements. But if the world is going to be healed, he must increase, and we must decrease.
He must increase. He, who even though he was equal with God, took the form of a slave. He, who refused the temptation of human glory in the wilderness. He, who came to bring good news to the poor and the vulnerable, as one of the poor and the vulnerable. He, who lived his life completely for God and for other people. He, who forgave his enemies even as they nailed him to the cross. He, who denied himself and picked up his cross for the sake of the whole world. It is Jesus the Christ who must increase. Imagine a world filled to the brim with his Spirit, a world of justice, peace, and love.
But that is only half of it. If the love and light of Christ is going to increase, there must be room for him in our hearts and in the world. So, we must decrease. That is a scary notion for many of us. In a world obsessed with increase and growth, decrease sounds like the root of all evil. The word itself portends diminishment and death. And who in their right mind wants to die? Yet, that is what the season of Lent is all about; it is about dying: dying to our egos, our ambitions, our thirst for recognition and importance often at the expense of others. It is only by dying to ourselves that we can make room for the one who brings true life.
During the season of Lent, we assume the role of the servant and take our place among the broken and the poor. We pick up our cross and we follow our Lord. And every step along the way, we become less and less, and he becomes more and more.