Posted on Wed, Dec 9, 2015
Dec. 6, 2015
5th Sunday of Advent
Gospel Luke 3:1-6 - “Emmanuel has come, is here, and is coming soon.”
The Proclamation of John the Baptist
In the fifteenth year of the reign of Emperor Tiberius, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was ruler of Galilee, and his brother Philip ruler of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias ruler of Abilene, 2 during the high-priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness. 3 He went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, 4 as it is written in the book of the words of the prophet Isaiah,
‘The voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
“Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight.
5 Every valley shall be filled,
and every mountain and hill shall be made low,
And the crooked shall be made straight,
And the rough ways made smooth;
6 and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.” ’
Today’s Gospel begins not with the Baptist’s ringing call to repentance, but with a long and detailed list of human rulers, both secular and religious that have come and gone.
Luke’s litany of imperial, regional, and religious authorities does more than just date John’s ministry to 28 or 29 CE. It also contrasts human kingdoms with God’s reign. Included in the list of human kings and governors, there are religious leaders that held onto their religious position of power with just as much tenacity and brutality as the secular rulers. But the main thing Luke wants us to know is that the claims to authority that Tiberius or Herod or the high priest may have made, no matter what schemes they used to maintain power, were fleeting.
John the Baptizer comes onto the scene to announce that a new era was about to begin. The true authority of God, with the full might, glory and authority that will never end, is about to enter and change our world FOREVER.
This is the amazing promise that we prepare for during Advent. The dawning of a new era where the corrupted leadership of humankind, whether in the religious or secular society will now be challenged with the Truth and Power of God. It is very humbling when we really give this announcement the time it deserves to sink into our hearts and minds.
John the Baptizer is proclaiming that the present world we experience and trudge through each day is not the supreme power or force that we humans must face. Now, we go through life knowing that we are alone, and one day at the end of Jesus’ ministry, we will be given the promise, “I will always be with you, even to the end of the age.” The fact that John’s proclamation about the truth that Emmanuel is beyond the limitations of time and the ages is best expressed when our petition begins with, “Emmanuel has come, is here, and is coming soon.” The Good News is that God IS a greater power, founded on Truth, Justice, Mercy, Love and Joy that will split the heavens, challenge all human power & wisdom, and even command power over fear and death. And this power will be seen and experienced in ways totally contrary to human understanding of power and glory.
In order for the world to grasp the importance of his message, John announces the coming of God with a message of repentance, which Jesus will continue. In order to see, hear and feel the presence of the savior one must see oneself and the world as it is, broken, self-centered, greedy, arrogant, stubborn, disconnected from neighbor and apathetic to the needs of neighbor and society, and turn oneself away from all that to face the ways of God along with promise and forgiveness of God. In order to do this, John offered the rite of baptism with water, a means of forgiveness, spiritual cleansing and making oneself holy and righteous before God.
John comes out of the desert, a land that appears to filled only with harsh desolation, but we need to remember it is from the testing of the desert that Moses lead the Israelites for 40 years, or exactly one generation, to help them become a nation “ready” and “purified” to enter into the Promised Land, as the God’s People. Thus the words of the Prophet, or better yet, the messenger, Malachi, “For he is like a refiner's fire and like fullers' soap; he will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the descendants of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, until they present offerings to the LORD in righteousness.”
God’s people owe allegiance first and foremost to God. And it is God’s word that sets John’s ministry in motion. John has been commissioned to prepare the way not for lord Caesar or any earthly lordling, but for the one true Lord.
Like Moses, like the prophetic voice in Isaiah 40, John challenges God’s people to see the wilderness as a place not of desolation, but of hope. God is calling them, like the Babylonian exiles, to leave their captors behind and head home through the wilderness. God is calling them, like the people of Israel in Egypt, to join an exodus out of slavery into God’s promised fresh start (see Luke 9:31, where Jesus discusses his Exodus with Moses and Elijah). John preaches that the first step on this journey toward freedom is a baptism of repentance.
John’s hearers were probably already familiar with two kinds of baptism: the baptism by which Gentile converts became Jews and so embarked on a whole new way of life; and the ritual washings that the Qumran community understood as cleansing them, but only if they turned from their sins and obeyed God. Both types called for changed behavior. John’s baptism of repentance does too. Repentance (Greek metanoia) is not mere regret for past misdeeds. It means far more than saying, “I’m sorry. Please forgive me.” Metanoia means a change of mind and heart, the kind of inner transformation that bears visible fruit. “Visible Fruit are things described in Luke 3:10-14: And the crowds asked him, ‘What then should we do?’ 11In reply Jesus said to them, ‘Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise.’ 12Even tax-collectors came to be baptized, and they asked him, ‘Teacher, what should we do?’ 13He said to them, ‘Collect no more than the amount prescribed for you.’ 14Soldiers also asked him, ‘And we, what should we do?’ He said to them, ‘Do not extort money from anyone by threats or false accusation, and be satisfied with your wages.’
John proclaims a baptism of repentance that leads to release from sins. Release (Greek: “aphesis”) is the same word that Jesus uses twice in Luke 4:18 to describe his mission: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me … to proclaim release to the captives and … to let the oppressed go free … ” The release or forgiveness that follows repentance does not undo past sins, but it does unbind people from them. It opens the way for a life lived in God’s service. By proclaiming such release, John fulfills his father’s prophecy: “you, child, … will go before the Lord to prepare his ways, to give knowledge of salvation to his people by the forgiveness (or release, of their sins” (Luke 1:77). This salvation looks like a new dawn for those trapped in darkness and death’s shadow. It is light that reveals a new path, the way toward peace (Luke 1:78–79).
Preparing the Lord’s path toward peace requires overturning the world as we know it. John quotes the prophet Isaiah to describe the earthshaking transformation that must and will take place. Though his words can certainly be taken as mere pictures of road construction, in the context of Luke’s writings they evoke richer associations: valleys filled full, mountains and hills humbled, everything crooked made straight and true. Mary sings of the God who has looked on her humble state. She praises the One who saves by dethroning the powerful and exalting the humble, sending the rich away empty-handed and filling up the hungry (Luke 1:52–53). Jesus blesses the poor and the hungry and the weeping but announces woe for the rich and well-fed (Luke 6:20–26). On the Day of Pentecost Peter warns the people, “Be saved from this crooked generation” (Acts 2:40). ‘Crooked,’ skolia, is the same word that Isaiah uses for the things that must be straightened out.
Preparing for God’s arrival means rethinking systems and structures that we see as ‘normal’ but that God condemns as oppressive and crooked. It means letting God humble everything that is proud and self-satisfied in us, and letting God heal and lift up what is broken and beaten down. The claims that the world’s authorities make often conflict with God’s claims. Paths that seem satisfactory to us are not good enough for God. John calls us to let God’s bulldozers reshape the world’s social systems and the landscape of our own minds and hearts. God’s ways are not our ways. Amen
No messages have been posted.
You must first create an account to post.