|Friends, today’s Gospel celebrates the birth of John the Baptist. I think it’s fair to say that you cannot really understand Jesus without understanding John, which is precisely why all four Evangelists tell the story of the Baptist as a kind of overture to the story of Jesus.
John did not draw attention to himself. Rather, he presented himself as a preparation, a forerunner, a prophet preparing the way of the Lord. He was summing up much of Israelite history, but stressing that this history was open-ended, unfinished.
And therefore, how powerful it was when, upon spying Jesus coming to be baptized, he said, “Behold the Lamb of God.” No first-century Israelite would have missed the meaning of that: behold the one who has come to be sacrificed. Behold the sacrifice, which will sum up, complete, and perfect the Temple. Moreover, behold the Passover lamb, who sums up the whole meaning of that event and brings it to fulfillment.
And this is why John says, “He must increase and I must decrease.” In other words, the overture is complete, and now the great opera begins. The preparatory work of Israel is over, and now the Messiah will reign.