On this third Sunday of Advent – Gaudete Sunday – the readings continue the sense of anticipation of the season, but they also remind us of who is on His way. Zephaniah tells us, “The LORD, your God, is in your midst, a mighty savior.” Paul proclaims, “The Lord is near.”

What is our understandable response to the imminent arrival of our King? “Shout for joy, O daughter Zion! Sing joyfully, O Israel!,” Zephaniah tells us. “Cry out with joy and gladness: for among you is the great and Holy One of Israel,” the responsorial from Isaiah declares.

The sense of anticipation and joy, however, are united with the powerful words of John the Baptist that with the celebration must come preparation. We must strive to be worthy of our King.

In the Gospel, John preaches repentance, telling all people of all classes and professions that they must practice charity, justice, and honesty in their lives. And he then disabuses them of any erroneous notions that he might be the Messiah. The true prophet shows us where we must look. And John is telling us to look not to him but to Christ.

Speaking of the Baptist in 2014, Pope Francis noted that while John had many followers because of his “strong words,” he did not succumb to the temptation to believe in his own importance. Rather, John understood that he was to prepare the way for the Lord. “A Christian does not announce himself,” Pope Francis said, pointing to the Baptist, “he announces another, prepares the way for another: the Lord.”

In this third week of Advent, we should rejoice and anticipate. But if this season is a time of preparation and of penance – and if we take John as our model – we should remember that we too must decrease while Christ increases.

Dr. Matthew E. Bunson is a professor at Catholic Distance University, a fully Catholic, fully online university that offers degrees in Theology and Catholic Studies.

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