Christ is born!
There was a day when I actually worked as a “promotions director” for a leading media ministry. My job was to make sure the religious media consumers knew about our radio, TV, and print materials available and to get folks to watch, listen, and read our stuff. I was even a member of the Public Relations Society of America for a short time!
Nowadays, it seems that “getting the word out” has been taken over by “make sure they know me!” And that means doing anything you can to promote and publicise your particular message. Now don’t get me wrong, the reality is something horrible happens when you don’t advertise – Nothing! But the ditch on the other side of this narrow road is to make excuses for “the ends justify the means” activities that can be more “marketing” than a genuine desire to share beauty with others. It’s a tightrope that can only be maneuvered well through two very powerful spiritual virtues.
Look at our Gospel Lesson today in John 1:18-28:
No one has ever seen God; the only-begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, he has made him known.
And this is the testimony of John, when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, “Who are you?” He confessed, he did not deny, but confessed, “I am not the Christ.” And they asked him, “What then? Are you Elijah?” He said, “I am not.” “Are you the prophet?” And he answered, “No.” They said to him then, “Who are you? let us have an answer for those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?” He said, ” I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’ as the prophet Isaiah said.”
Now they had been sent from the Pharisees. They asked him, “Then why are you baptizing, if you are neither the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the prophet?” John answered them, “I baptize with water; but among you stands one whom you do not know, even he who comes after me, the thong of whose sandal I am not worthy to untie.” This took place in Bethany beyond the Jordon, where John was baptizing.
The Gospel writer makes the provocative statement about the Son making the Father known and he follows up that insight by telling us about St. John the Baptist and how that great prophet handled both the limelight of his ministry and the challenge of not forgetting his purpose. And The Blessed Forerunner accomplished this narrow path by the energetic practice of the twin spiritual virtues of honesty and humility.
Notice how The Forerunner handles the questions of the religious leaders of his day. He never claims to be more than he is. “Are you the Christ?” “No.” St. John doesn’t embellish his answers and he doesn’t say more than is necessary. He is asked “Are you Elijah” and St. John tells them “no.” Of course we know that he did come in the spirit and power of Elijah, but the Jews of his day were expecting Elijah himself to precede the Messiah, having misunderstood the prophecy. And John doesn’t leave them in their misunderstanding but practices an honesty that risks his ministry. He refuses to take his eye off his purpose. He is to “make straight the way of the Lord.”
But he also practices the virtue of humility in always remembering and practicing his ministry knowing full well that there will come a day when his temporary “popularity” will disappear. There will be a day when St, John will decrease and the Lord Jesus will increase. It’s that humility that allows John to always be at peace with his calling, his true identity as the Lord’s servant. In fact, John testifies that he isn’t even worthy to untie the shoes of the One for Whom he is preparing the Way! Even though this One was in the midst of them and they did not know Him, they soon would see what St. John sees: “The Lamb of God Who takes away the sin of the World!”
Today, as we move into a new year and toward the celebration of the Lord’s Baptism by John in the Jordan, let’s all of us understand that our calling is to make His Gospel known in our day as well. Not with the ever tempting “marketing strategies” of manipulation, but with the power of honesty and humility, focusing all our gifts into making known the Lord Jesus Who then makes known the Father. It’s that radical honesty and humility that will protect us from the crass promotion that demeans and toward the life-giving evangelismos that is normal Orthodoxy.