The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
2 As it is written in Isaiah the prophet,
“Behold, I send my messenger before your face,
who will prepare your way,
3 the voice of one crying in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight,’”
4 John appeared, baptizing in the wilderness and proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 5 And all the country of Judea and all Jerusalem were going out to him and were being baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. 6 Now John was clothed with camel’s hair and wore a leather belt around his waist and ate locusts and wild honey. 7 And he preached, saying, “After me comes he who is mightier than I, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. 8 I have baptized you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” – Mark 1:1-8
I’m not a clothes horse. I have some nice shirts I really like. I have some suits (that don’t fit as well as they once did). I have serviceable shoes. But I’m near the other end of the spectrum from a GQ model. I’d like to think that I take after Lyle Schaller, a keen observer of church life and author of many books on ministry and church leadership. I attended one of his conferences and was really surprised at his appearance. He wore a one-piece cotton overall – somewhat popular in the 1980’s, I guess, but hardly haute couture. Nothing about his appearance engendered confidence. He was not charismatic in style or appearance.
But when Lyle Schaller opened his mouth and began to teach us it was as though springs of truth and insight were let loose from deep inside. He spoke about his “version of reality,” for example, dealing with the way most church members thought about the church life, financial support, and pastoral leadership. His was not so much a theological perspective, though he was a Christian. His was a this-is-the-way-the-church-actually-works perspective. It was insightful and encouraging. But you wouldn’t know it by his physical appearance or manner of dress.
John’s message, on the other hand, is deeply theological and profoundly true. And his manner of dress actually added to his legitimacy. One commentator speaks of it this way:
The dress was probably deliberately adopted by the Baptist as reviving the outward appearance of Elijah, who was “a hairy man, and girt with a girdle of leather” (2Kings 1:8); and the “rough garment,” that had been characteristic of the prophet’s life even at a later period (Zechariah 13:4), as contrasted with the “long garments” of the Pharisees (Mark 12:38), and the “gorgeous apparel” of the scribes who attached themselves to the court of Herod (Luke 7:25). The Nazarite vow of Luke 1:15 probably involved long and shaggy hair as well (BibleHub.com).
More important than his manner of dress, however, was the truth he spoke. “Prepare the way of the Lord,” he said, echoing the words of Isaiah. God is coming. Time to lower the mountains and raise the valleys. That means that we who are inclined to be too self-important need to take ourselves down a step or two. But it also means that we who are too inclined to remain down in the dumps of pessimism or woefulness, need to lift up our eyes and see what good things God is up to – even in these dire times.
I need to be reminded of the harsh realities of life more than of the sunny side of things. But God’s call is constant. He calls us to faith in Jesus Christ, the Son of God, and the embodiment of truely and eternally-Good News. That’s true no matter what kind of clothing the messenger might wear.