Have you ever thought of yourself as an evangelizer? These days so many political and economic associations have grown up around the word “evangelical.” But in the Scriptures it has the clear meaning of someone who goes out and announces the Good News — the extremely Good News that God, in Jesus, has come among us bringing the ways of God’s Kingdom to this world.
We think of St. Paul travelling thousands of miles around the ancient world proclaiming in word and deed that in this Jesus Christ a new age has dawned, and that, with our cooperation, justice and love will win out in the end. We think too of Paul’s earthshaking meeting with the Risen Christ on the Damascus road.
Today there are people who evangelize in Paul’s very public and you might say confrontational style – “Do you accept Jesus as your Lord and Savior!”
But there are other ways of being an evangelist. One example early in Luke’s gospel is Anna, that elderly widow residing in The Temple who encounters Mary, Joseph and their baby as they come into Jerusalem. After meeting this Holy Family, Anna goes out to talk with her neighbor about the child “for whom all were waiting for the rescue of Jerusalem.” In her gentle, intimate and non-showy way, she too qualifies as an evangelist. There’s more than one way to proclaim the Good News.
Notice what enabled her to become this different kind of evangelist. Unlike the high drama of Paul’s life, Anna’s had been a mostly unnoticed existence back in the shadows of the Temple. We’re told she prayed constantly but unobtrusively, spending her days in quiet conversation with her God. We’re also told she fasted frequently, that she didn’t gratify every desire and heightened her hunger for God. Somehow, these practices and the hidden tenor of her life combined to sensitize her to the divine in this little baby. Hundreds of people were milling about in the Temple that day; only she and Simeon recognize the special holiness of this child.
In her own way she had been preparing herself to notice and respond. Her prayer and fasting helped open her eyes to God’s presence passing so close by. They also impelled her to speak about what she had seen. Anna gave witness to her personal experience of God right there in her midst.
Compared to St. Paul, Anna’s evangelizing was low key. Her prayer and fasting were back in the shadows, not just of the Temple but of her old age and the invisibility that often goes with that. But she noticed and then responded, was alert to God’s nearness and then spoke about it to her immediate world.
There are different ways and styles of being an evangelist. Her gentle path is one among many others of witnessing to the hand of God at work, of being a proclaimer of the Lord’s involvement in our world.
One might witness by doing some generous deed, and when there’s an opening revealing something of your faith-motive for doing it.
One can evangelize by taking a stand for greater justice in some societal situation, and in some little way letting people know how the person of Jesus has figured into your action.
One can announce the Good News by extending a costly forgiveness to someone who has hurt you, and when the occasion arises mentioning how much your faith sustained you through the process.
And we Vincentians know about bringing the Gospel of good works to the less fortunate, and then, following Vincent and Louise’s lead, speaking to them of the love of God.
Following this senior citizen, Anna, we see how preparation readies us to speak of God’s presence in life. Prayer and fasting and perseverance were her training. For us, discussing our faith with friends can help. Taking notice of the good example of other believers is an aid. All this and more sensitizes us to The Lord’s activity in this world. And then that second step, speaking about what we’ve seen and heard – or as the New Testament would have it, “proclaiming the Good News.”
In a thousand different ways and styles, each disciple of the Lord Jesus is summoned to let others know what of Him we’ve seen and heard and touched and tasted –and so be able to testify, to speak out our witness to God’s presence in everyday life.