|John 1:6-8, 19-28To all who would listen and to those who would not, John came to testify to the light. Christ is coming. Repent. Make straight the way of the Lord. Say that often enough around the wrong people back then and you could get yourself into a lot of trouble. And he did.Say that around the wrong people today and you could still get into a lot of trouble. And they are: In Nigeria and Kenya where it means rape and murder… in Iran where it means an official death sentence…in Syria and Iraq where it means fleeing the country by the tens of thousands. And yet they cling to Christ. They proclaim him from burning churches and with dying breaths. Picture it. These are not martyrs’ tales from a far away, heroic age. This is what is happening right now, today …to our brothers and sisters in Christ. And the world shrugs.
Clearly, proclaiming Christ still comes with a price. And it is not isolated to far off lands. We pay a price today in an increasingly conformist, secular America. And the price is going up. Start with the growing pall of intimidation that stifles even the most timid reference to faith. Add in the wrinkled brows and raised eyebrows that greet the slightest mention of Jesus. All capped with a look that says you are obviously a redneck rube for daring to violate the most sacred tenet of secular orthodoxy: None of that Jesus stuff, thank you very much. It’s not polite and it’s definitely not politically correct. This mini-martyrdom of disapproval awaits all those brave enough to take John at his word and proclaim the coming of Christ.
The Evangelist John set this gospel down during a time of both growing persecution and troubling doubt. The Christian communities were being banished from the synagogues by those who rejected Jesus. Many had lived day to day in anticipation of Christ’s triumphant return. They waited and wondered… and increasingly they worried. Rejection and anxiety put the faithful in double jeopardy. Years passed and they struggled on, often isolated and alienated from friends and family… while official intolerance evolved into state sanctioned extermination. Where was Jesus? When was he coming? Or had they followed a fairy-tale to futility and destruction?
In the face of this turmoil, the Evangelist deliberately takes up his pen to set the record straight. That is why, of all the gospels, his is the one that places Christ in the context of Creation… that verse by verse and chapter by chapter documents the case for the divinity of Jesus… that proclaims him anew as more than a Messiah… as nothing less than the living God.
John’s gospel is an account of the ministry of Jesus. But it is no ode to a martyred holy man. It is not the collected wisdom of a great philosopher. It is nothing less than a proclamation that Jesus was, is and always will be one with Yahweh. Without any doubt, he is coming again… but on his schedule, not on ours. The ridicule we receive, the persecutions we endure are all part of the cross we carry to glory… all part of the price we pay.
To proclaim Christ does not mean a mass reprogramming for all of us to become street corner evangelists. As the hymn tells us: They will know we are Christians by our love. That is how we proclaim Jesus. And to get up for the game, we gather together every Sunday as the Body of Christ to draw strength from our worship, to refocus our purpose, to build the confidence to take Christ with us back into the world and to fearlessly witness his love. It is within the walls of our church that we gather this strength. But it is outside the walls, in the world, where we must spend our strength for God’s glory.
He did not put us here to get along by going along. To live in Christ’s love and to proclaim it in word and deed always means paying the price. Sometimes the price is great. Sometimes it is small. But whatever the price… it is, literally, the greatest bargain of a lifetime.
Image: “Geertgendoper” by Geertgen tot Sint Jans (circa 1460-circa 1488) – Unknown. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons
The Reverend David Sellery, Episcopal Priest, Author, and Coach. Fr. Sellery presently serves as Priest-in-Charge, St. John’s Salisbury, CT. Fr. Sellery has excelled at using new media to increase outreach beyond the Church doors via his website, blog posts, and podcasts.