One of Rudolph Bultmann's most enduring insights into the Christian Scriptures revolved around the different way people regarded Jesus before and after His resurrection.

"Only after His death and resurrection did the preacher become the preached," the famous Scripture scholar stated. In other words, during His earthly ministry, Jesus faithfully preached God's word. He didn't necessarily preach Himself. But after His death and resurrection, Jesus' followers preached Jesus. In the eyes of the early Christians, Jesus eventually became the word He preached.

Sometimes, we get so caught up with the person of Jesus, so carried away by His presence in our midst, that we forget to listen to the message He proclaims both during His earthly mission and in His resurrected existence.

Being there

It's easy to follow a non-preaching Jesus, just like it was easy for Zephaniah's people to accept a non-preaching God (Zeph 3:14-18). "the King of Israel, the Lord, is in your midst," the prophet announces. "You have no further misfortune to fear....He will rejoice over you with gladness, and renew you in his love. He will sing joyfully because of you, as one sings at festivals."

Most Scripture scholars believe those words were not originally uttered by Zephaniah, who prophesied during the last third of the seventh century, B.C.E. (during the reign of Judah's reformer king, Josiah), but were added to his oracles by someone active a century later, during the Babylonian Exile. They're obviously directed to a beaten-down people, a community longing to be reminded that Yahweh was and would be among them, no matter what.

At that point, God didn't have to say anything. God just had to be consolingly present. Yet, we should always remember what prophets like Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi had to say about Yahweh's word to His people once they had returned to the Promised Land.

There are situations, though, when even a consoling presence demands that people listen to the one who consoles. This is the case with Paul and his belief in Jesus' Second Coming (Phil 4:4-7). Still thinking the Parousia is just around the corner, the Apostle encourages his Philippian community to "rejoice in the Lord always!" The reason: "The Lord Himself is near....God's own peace, which is beyond all understanding, will stand guard over your hearts and minds, in Christ Jesus."

Response

We clearly see in this Gospel (Lk 3:10-18) that good preaching always evokes a response. Notice the three questions. "The crowd asked John, `What are we to do?'" "Tax collectors...said to him, `Teacher, what are we to do?'" "Soldiers likewise asked him, `What about us?'" These questions only make sense when we remember that, in the seven verses prior to those passages, Luke has given a summary of the Baptizer's powerful preaching.

In a sense, because we don't believe John the Baptizer is God, it's easier for us to ignore his person and concentrate on his preaching. When thinking of him, for instance, we remember most that he proclaimed the coming of Jesus. We recall words like, "He must increase; I must decrease. One is coming who is mightier than I. I'm not worthy to untie his sandal."

Yet, when we think of Jesus, the main thing that usually comes to mind is that He's the God who died and rose for us. We don't immediately come up with a quote from one of Jesus' sermons or homilies.

Sometimes, it might be helpful for our faith to put ourselves in the place of those who listened to the preaching Jesus, those who heard Him before people began to preach Him. Perhaps in those moments we might realize why Christmas is such a popular holiday. The baby in the manger doesn't say anything.

(12-11-97)