What Bethlehem Taught About Marketing Jesus

Around 2,000 years ago Bethlehem hosted the most spectacular event since, “Let there be light.”

It was completely unique; utterly new. Nothing like it had been done before, or since. It was the incarnation of the eternal Son of God in real human flesh and bone, the Son of Man, born to save us. It was the divine answer to the human problem.

But, who did God tell?

He let it go largely unnoticed.

Sure, an angel choir sang praises, but to whom?—just a few shepherds in the middle of nowhere. Just a few non-influencers at the edge of a podunk town in a backwater region of a disinterested empire.

The shepherds talked it up, sure. But all the response they got was that people wondered.

God did let two others, elderly Simeon and 84-year-old Anna, in on the big event. They astonished Joseph and Mary, making a big deal over Jesus when they brought him to the temple 40 days later. But nothing much came of it; they weren’t exactly movers and shakers in Jerusalem.

And, there were a few foreign star gazers (Magi), too. But they just showed up out of the blue, asked directions, and then, left without a word.

That was the extent of God’s big announcement.

One has to wonder, why.

Here’s my take:

Because Jesus isn’t a product.

Jesus isn’t God’s equivalent of a new iPhone to be beautifully packaged, merchandised, shipped, sold, and tracked.

God wasn’t measuring Jesus’ performance in the marketplace. He had no charts plotting Jesus’ market penetration. There were no graphs tracking Jewish versus Gentile uptake. Jesus wouldn’t need tweaking. He would never be re-branded. He didn’t come in multiple, market-sensitive packages.

He just came. He did His Father’s will. And He trained a few followers to tell the world about it.

No more angel choirs.

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So, here we are in our modern, free-market consumer society, and the message about Jesus has finally come to us. In ordinary, sometimes forced ways (your parents made you go to church, right?), the message, this gospel, is now our charge.

Will we pass it on as it was received?—in its biblical essence, unpackaged, unadorned?—at once both divine and earthy, glorious and offensive?

Or should we measure it, test it, tweak it for maximum relevance and appeal?—Because, after all, we know so much more about human nature now.

Given what Bethlehem taught about marketing Jesus, perhaps we should question the relevance of the question, “How do we make the message relevant?”

I hope I, we, can leave it alone, except to make it known.

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I’ll write more about how we often don’t leave it alone next time.

Grace and peace, Lon

The Incarnation: Somebody Loved You

A good friend who wanted some advice asked me this week how I handled Dawn’s struggles with anxiety and depression.

Without hesitation, I offered a one word answer: love.

What I Meant by That

I didn’t mean that I feel romantic, warm-fuzzy feelings for Dawn (though, I have them a-plenty) that counter-balance whatever personal loss I might experience (which, I don’t at all) by having her in my life.

I meant that I handle her issues by actively loving her. I think of love primarily as a verb – an action, a decision, a commitment; not as a noun – a feeling, a state of being. Our culture typically defines love as the happy, warm-fuzzy feelings another person makes us feel, or worse, as the erotic passion another person makes us feel. (Have you noticed that no one is pretty, or elegant, or handsome, or cute anymore? Everyone is “hot”? But I digress…)

A better, more biblical understanding of love is this: love is committing oneself to act in a way that benefits someone else. Take, for example, the story of the Good Samaritan. The hero in that story was the hero because he actively loved someone else.

Love is committing oneself to act in a way that benefits someone else.

What Love Can Cost

Noun-love is self-centered; verb-love is other-centered. It is costly to the self, though it often comes with personal rewards, too.

I try to love Dawn this way. I want my life to be a series of actions intended to make her life fuller. I admit though, that in my case there is so much I admire and enjoy about Dawn that my commitment to love her (it’s a verb) makes any personal cost I might experience invisible to me. I never feel like I’m losing anything.  It’s easy to love her.

But what if she had less I could admire and enjoy about her? And, what if her “issues” were a thousand times worse? Would I still find it so easy to actively love her? Would I be as committed to her welfare?

All I can say is, I hope so. I’m only an average man. I have issues, too – pretty complicated, nasty, ugly ones, actually. As a result, I probably don’t have the capacity for great, great love. I would need to tap into Someone else’s supply.

What God Meant by That

And that brings me to why I’m writing today. My friend’s question reminded me how wonderful it is that God wasn’t content to feel a cosmic warm-fuzzy toward me. Instead, He loved me so as to benefit me, in spite of my issues, and He never gave the cost a second thought. The incarnation of His Son was an infinitely costly, supreme act of love toward an unremarkable me. That act of love will ultimately free me from my issues, and empower my own capacity to love Him and others.

God looked down on me and you, a mass of average people with nothing admirable to recommend us, and He verb-loved us anyway…

with the best He had to offer.

How has God’s verb-love made a difference in your life?

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