John 1:6-8, 19-28 (3rd week of Advent, year b)
Advertizing is all around us, particularly as we prepare for Christmas. Television is full of commercials. Open a newspaper and there is advertizing everywhere. Whether it be on the side of the road, at bus stops or on the skytrain, billboards are all over the place. According to a conservative estimate, the average North American is exposed to 250 commercials - also called marketing messages - each and every day. Ads are so common that sometimes we can forget their power to influence us.
The purpose of commercials and advertising is to kindle a desire within our hearts for the promoted product. For this reason, advertisers try to put their products in the best possible light, showing their most appealing aspects. It goes without saying that advertising does not dwell on the negative aspects of what is being sold, this would not entice people to buy it! For example, a commercial for a hamburger will focus on how delicious it would be to eat, rather than the fact that it is bad for our health. A travel brochure for a vacation destination will show pictures of all the most beautiful beaches and locations rather than the dirty and rougher neighbourhoods. Advertizing for cars will focus on how fun it is to drive or try to convince you that if you buy it your life will suddenly be more successful and adventurous life. It won’t say much about the danger associated with driving or the negative effect it has on the environment. Good advertising is able to make us desire to have the product it promotes.
Our lives are meant to be commercials for Jesus. People should see the way that we act and speak and, knowing that we are Christians, should have a desire grow within them to become followers of Jesus as well. But, you object, it sounds a little crass when we speak about advertizing for Jesus. Perhaps you think it is impolite and unCanadian to push our beliefs or religion on others. To this, I say that we should not be shy to advertize for Jesus! We tolerate so much advertising in our lives for products that are ultimately disappointing. Things are never as good as they appear in a commercial. With Jesus, it’s just the opposite. He is always better than we can describe with our words. Further, Jesus is the only thing that can satisfy the human heart. He is the only “product” that will never disappoint. In the end, He is the one thing in the world worth advertizing!
In fact, we often talk about advertizing for Jesus, we just don’t use that world. The “churchier” words we use to describe the advertizing we do for Jesus are witness and testimony. In the gospel, we heard how John the Baptist came to be a witness and give testimony for Jesus. He did this by what he said and by how he lived. With his words he led people away from himself and towards Jesus. His words had weight because of the good, virtuous life that he lived. His life is an incredibly effective commercial for Jesus. Our way of living should do the same. Sometimes we are not good witnesses and our lives do not entice people to follow Jesus. For example, when we are bitter, unforgiving, selfish, cruel, dishonest and speak crudely, people will rightly think to themselves, “if this is what is means to be a follower of Jesus, then I want no part of it.” On the other hand, when we are joyful, honest, generous, peaceful and kind people will think to themselves “it seems that knowing Jesus really does make a difference, I want that in my life, so I need to come to know Jesus.” Our lives are supposed to be good commercials for Jesus.
One important way we give witness is by how we use our voices during Mass. What comes out of our mouths while in Church is a commercial for our faith - either good or bad. I always love celebrating Mass for the school children at the school. Above all, I am struck by one thing: their singing! By the way that they sing with enthusiasm, the students make an incredible witness. If newcomers were to walk into the Church and hear them for the first time, they would think that they really want to be at Mass, that Mass is something important and that they want to praise God with joy. Hearing them, makes you want to join in! On the other hand, what type of message does it send when people do not participate in the singing at Mass? If people were to walk into a Church for the first time and hear half-hearted, joy-less singing, what would they think? Probably that what goes on inside the Church isn’t too important and that those present don’t really want to be there. Would a visitor want to be part of community that is lacking in joy? No way. Let’s consider what our participation in the singing at Mass, as individuals and as a community, says about us. This is a very timely as we approach Christmas. At the Christmas Masses many come who don’t regularly attend Mass. We have an incredible opportunity to witness simply by our singing. Hopefully those who attend the Christmas Masses will be encouraged to return more regularly! I realize that not everyone is talented when it comes to singing. On the one hand, some people sing loudly who should probably be singing more softly! On the other hand, most of us can sing with more enthusiasm. Pope Francis has recently encouraged us to overcome our embarrassment and hesitation and sing more during Mass. It does not matter, he said, if we are good singers. It is impossible to imagine that “you are able to shout when your team scores a goal and you cannot sing the Lord’s praises, and leave behind your composure a bit to sing.”
During Advent, we tend to focus on what we are doing to help prepare ourselves to welcome Jesus at Christmas. This Sunday, let us ask a different question: what are you doing to help others welcome Jesus into their heart at Christmas? Like John the Baptist, are you a good witness by what you say and act? In particular, today we can consider how well we participate in the singing at the Mass. Is the way you use your voice at Mass an appealing commercial that leads people closer to Jesus?