I am a walking dichotomy. On the one hand, I write a blog that I hope a lot of people will read. I post on instagram and facebook, hoping for lots of likes. I lead a congregation that I hope will grow. On the other hand, I have deep misgivings about the rise of religious celebrity and the cult of personality that seems to be at the root of much of what calls itself Christianity in 21st century America. The world in me wants to be somewhat church famous (with the justification of, it’ll lead more people to follow Jesus in what I’ve deemed to be the right way). The Holy Spirit in me wants to be anonymous and to let God take care of the soul saving work. The world in me looks down my nose at folks like Joel Osteen, Franklin Graham, and people still using the Royal Wedding sermon to prop up our Presiding Bishop. The Holy Spirit in me argues that there is no competition in the Kingdom of Heaven. It is a struggle I deal with on a regular basis.
This dichotomy is hitting home this week as I read the Gospel lesson appointed for Advent 3A. Eight chapters after we first met John the Baptist in the wilderness of Judea last Sunday, this week, we’ll get the continuation of the JBap story. John has been arrested. As was the custom of the time, his disciples ministered to him in jail. As they brought him food and clothing, they also shared news from the outside. Jesus was on the move. His fame was beginning to increase. He was preaching repentance, healing the sick, and his followers were growing. Something was missing, however. John had expected the Messiah to do or say something that Jesus wasn’t, and so he asked his disciples to go meet Jesus and to make sure he really was the one they had been waiting for.
In response, Jesus hits this dichotomy of worldly fame and godly faithfulness right on the head. First, Jesus lays out a vision for the Kingdom of Heaven. Despite thousands of years of expectation, both before and after the coming of Christ, the vision set forth by Jesus isn’t about power, prestige, or fame, but rather, its about humility, compassion, and good news for those on the margins. Second, Jesus challenges all who would wish that God was more interested in political power by reminding them, and us, that what brought people out to see John, and by extension, what brought them out to see Jesus, wasn’t those in the soft robes of the palace, but the messiness of the wilderness. It is there, amidst the locusts, dust, and the poor that the Kingdom of God will be found. It is in humility, poverty, and suffering with, not in expensive suits, fancy houses, private jets, and book deals that the Kingdom of God will be found.
Ultimately, I think we are all walking dichotomies. Our motivations are often mixed. Our deepest desires are shaped by the world even as we strive to live for the Kingdom. In Christ, however, we have our exemplar. In John the Baptist, we have one who came to point to the way, even as he struggled with this dichotomy himself. Across thousands of years of Judeo-Christian history we have all kinds of examples of those who feebly struggled to live for Christ and not for self, and this Tuesday in Advent, as I’ll once again be asked to leave a room while the Vestry talks my stipend for 2020, I’m grateful for the examples of those who don’t trust in fame or riches, but in the power of the lamb.