Self promotion or the promotion of Jesus

Advent 3 – 2014

John 1:6-8,19-28

Marian Free

 In the name of God, Life-giver, Redeemer, Sustainer. Amen.

In the movie Love Actually, Bill Nighie’s character (Billy Mack) is a washed up musician whose long-suffering manager (Joe) has found him a job re-working a popular song for Christmas. Billy is not at all happy. He thinks the task is below him and is rude, crude and obnoxious. He shows no gratitude towards Joe and risks the whole project by putting the producers of the song offside. His sullenness continues through the promotion period and through the radio interviews and TV appearances that Joe has set up. His attititude towards the song is so disparaging that during one of the interviews he states that if the song is the number one Christmas hit, he will perform it naked on that same TV show. Possibly as a result of Billy’s blustering, the song does make it to number one. As a result, Billy becomes a popular star once more. Beautiful women surround him and other stars want him to attend their Christmas parties. Joe gets no credit for putting Billy back on his feet. His efforts and his patience and the fact that he suffered Billy’s arrogant disdain for the song are all taken for granted. On Christmas Eve, Billy goes off in a limousine to a party and Joe (who makes no complaint) is left alone in the shabby apartment that they share.

There is more to the story than that of course, but it does bring to mind all the faceless, behind-the-scenes people who never receive public acknowledgement for the work they put into getting their employer or the person/s whom they represent to the top. The men and women behind national leaders and other politicians, the band managers, stage directors and so on are faceless. They don’t get invited to the parties, they are never in the newspapers. Few people even know they exist. These people find satisfaction – not in getting to the top themselves, but in supporting the ambitions of someone else.

They bear some similarities to John the Baptist, who stepped back so that Jesus could have front and centre stage. John says to those around him: ‘After me comes a man who ranks ahead of me because he was before me’ and the one who is coming after me; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandal.‘ John doesn’t even know Jesus and has no idea of his credentials. Even when they finally meet, Jesus is as yet untried. He has done nothing to demonstrate his promise or to justify John’s confidence in him. What is more, John himself has a very successful ministry of his own. His influence is so significant that the religious leaders of the time send people to ask whether or not he is the Christ.

It must have been satisfying to see his own ministry grow, and tempting to let it go to his head. John has much to lose if Jesus does turn up yet he is absolutely clear about his role as the one who prepares the way for another. He recognises the limits of his own ministry and mission and is ready to stand aside when the time does come. Despite his success he is happy to play the role of support person – to allow his own role to diminish as that of Jesus grows. He is so confident that it was his responsibility to prepare the way for the one who was to come, that he can let go of his own authority and encourage his own disciples to become followers of Jesus (1:36). He gives up everything for the greater role that he believes that Jesus has to play.

John is a model for all of us who are in ministry and for all who would follow Christ. It doesn’t matter how good we are at our job, or how successful we are in our ministry we should not be seeking credit or to enlarge our influence. No matter how talented we are, we should not be striving for reward or recognition. if we are not promoting Jesus, we are only promoting ourselves.

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