2ndSunday of Advent 2018 – Acting as a Warm-Up Act for Jesus
In the entertainment industry, when there a major music act touring, it is customary to have what is called a warm up act.
This is the band or performer who plays before the main performer comes on stage.
For example, if an international band or performer like Pink or Bon Jovi is visiting Australia their warm up act will most likely be an up and coming local band.
It occurred to me as I pondered this week’s Gospel, with its focus on John the Baptist, that John is the quintessential warm up act.
His role is to never upstage the main act, but to get the crowd ready for the main attraction.
I found a website that talks about advice and etiquette for warm up acts and, as I read it, I was amused about how this advice would sound if it was given to John the Baptist.
Here were some of the bits of advice and etiquette for warm up acts:
Choose Your Targets
Pick the bands whose audience you believe is a good audience for your kind of music.
Act fast and be the first to throw your hat in the ring.
Don’t Expect to Be Paid Much
Generally speaking, being the opening act doesn’t pay particularly well in terms of cash. The real payoff is the chance to play in front of a larger audience and people who can help you in your career …
Many opening bands are lucky to get a mention on a concert poster, so you should take promotional matters into your own hands. Send out a press release letting the local media know about your upcoming show.
However, don’t try to pass yourself off as the headliner.
When the headlining musicians, their management, agent or the show promoter asks you to be somewhere at a certain time, be there.
Respect the Set Length
Wrap up your set when you’re supposed to – remember the headliners are who the audience has really come to see
Stay for the Show
Don’t skip out before the headliners play their set.
Say “Thank You”
A simple thank you goes a long way.
So, the warm-up act called John the Baptist could very well take on board much of this advice in relation to the main act of Jesus.
John, though, didn’t need this advice.
He knew his place was to be the herald of the one to follow him.
He would never try and pretend he was the headline act – even if some others mistook him for the Messiah.
He knew he wasn’t even fit to be on the same stage as the main act.
He was never going to speak too long to the detriment of people hearing Jesus.
He certainly wasn’t worried about getting paid to much – after all, he could get by living on locusts and wild honey.
But, he realised that he DID have an important role to play.
Now, of course analogies can only go so far.
And, I don’t want anyone to think I am in any way trivialising the role of John the Baptist by this comparison.
After all, John the Baptist wasn’t the warm up act for a great entertainer.
He was the warm-up act for the saviour of the world.
And part of his role was to model something for every one of us.
Our call is to also be a warm up act for Jesus.
To make Jesus the focus of all we do – and to not seek to put attention on ourselves.
To do all we can to announce Jesus to the people of our world today through our words and actions.
The Gospel passage today included specific information about the political and religious leaders of that time.
It was important to Luke to situate these events in a real time and place.
To show that Jesus entered into a specific world situation.
And God never stops engaging with our world. But today, he mainly does it through his people.
We are the ones called to prepare a way for the Lord today and help people see the salvation of God.
We may sometimes feel like a voice in the wilderness as a follower of Jesus today, but that is no reason to give up.
I mentioned last week that, as an activity for Advent, I was reading through Pope Francis’ Apostolic Exhortation on the Call to Holiness in today’s world.
His sentiments in this document are aligned with that of St Paul’s letter to the Philippians of our second reading today, praying that their love for each other will help them to be pure and blameless.
Pope Francis offers some advice and insights in this document which can help us – like John the Baptist – to act as beacons for Christ in our neighbourhood, our workplace, wherever we go in life.
And what I love most about it, is that Pope Francis makes holiness out to be something that is achievable by every one of us.
He says: “To be holy does not require being a bishop, a priest or a religious.We are frequently tempted to think that holiness is only for those who can withdraw from ordinary affairs to spend much time in prayer. That is not the case. We are all called to be holy by living our lives with love and by bearing witness in everything we do, wherever we find ourselves.”
And Pope Francis says our holiness can grow through very small, practical gestures. He gives this example:
“… a woman goes shopping, she meets a neighbour and they begin to speak, and the gossip starts. But she says in her heart: ‘No, I will not speak badly of anyone’. This is a step forward in holiness.
“Later, at home, one of her children wants to talk to her about his hopes and dreams, and even though she is tired, she sits down and listens with patience and love. That is another sacrifice that brings holiness.
“Later she experiences some anxiety, but recalling the love of the Virgin Mary, she takes her rosary and prays with faith. Yet another path of holiness.
“Later still, she goes out onto the street, encounters a poor person and stops to say a kind word to him. One more step.”
But this holiness needs to be cultivated by making time and space for God in our lives.
“The presence of constantly new gadgets, the excitement of travel and an endless array of consumer goods at times leave no room for God’s voice to be heard. We are overwhelmed by words, by superficial pleasures and by an increasing din, filled not by joy but rather by the discontent of those whose lives have lost meaning. How can we fail to realize the need to stop this rat race and to recover the personal space needed to carry on a heartfelt dialogue with God? Finding that space may prove painful but it is always fruitful. Sooner or later, we have to face our true selves and let the Lord enter…”
Some of us are fearful that being a person of holiness will lead us into a life of mind-numbing dullness.
But Pope Francis says this is wrong.
“Do not be afraid of holiness. It will take away none of your energy, vitality or joy. On the contrary, you will become what the Father had in mind when he created you, and you will be faithful to your deepest self.
“To depend on God sets us free from every form of enslavement and leads us to recognise our great dignity.”
So, do we dare to take the path of holiness as people of Marsden Park and beyond?
Do we dare to walk in the footsteps of John the Baptist on the streets that we walk?
Do we dare to be a warm up act for Jesus in our world today?
– Deacon Tony Hoban