There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. This is the testimony given by John when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, "Who are you?" He confessed and did not deny it, but confessed, "I am not the Messiah." And they asked him, "What then? Are you Elijah?" He said, "I am not." "Are you the prophet?" He answered, "No." Then they said to him, "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 out 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, "Why then are you baptizing if you are neither the Messiah, nor Elijah, nor the prophet?" John answered them, "I baptize with water. Among you stands one whom you do not know, the one who is coming after me; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandal." This took place in Bethany across the Jordan where John was baptizing. - John 1:6-8, 19-28
To 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 Egypt where it means rape and murder… in Iran where it means a death sentence…in 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. The mini-martyrdom of disapproval awaits all those brave enough to take John at his word and proclaim the coming of Christ.
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 here 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 it. God 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 means paying the price … sometimes great, sometimes small. But it is, literally, the greatest bargain of a lifetime.