Sunday – Advent II
Dec. 6, 2009
Collect: Merciful God, who sent your messengers the prophets to preach repentance and prepare the way for our salvation: Give us grace to heed their warnings and forsake our sins, that we may greet with joy the coming of Jesus Christ our Redeemer; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
Gospel: Luke 3:1-6
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, during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness. He went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, 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.
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;
and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.'”
Here we are at the beginning of the second week in Advent, that wondrous season of mystery where we prepare for the coming of the Christ Child into our lives. It’s a season that speaks words of HOPE in the midst of a season of waiting.
It’s a pregnant time where we are growing in anticipation of something that has yet to be expressed. The church colors are deep blue like the colors of the sky just before sunrise. In a few short days, something wondrous is about to happen in this place and in our lives.
Luke sets the stage for the coming of Christ by beginning his Gospel narrative with the story of Zachariah and Elizabeth, a temple priest and his barren wife. The King James Version remarks that they were both “stricken” with years!
In a story that seems without hope, Elizabeth and Zachariah conceive a son as foretold by the angel Gabriel. John the Baptist’s birth is a witness to Luke of God’s capacity to act when the evidence is to the contrary.
And in today’s Gospel we have another such story of hope. Luke goes to great lengths to make a point of naming the adversarial climate into which Jesus’ life and ministry would come. Luke sets up the powers of this world against which God must compete for the human heart. On one hand you have:
Tiberius – 2nd Emperor of Rome and one of Rome’s greatest generals
Pilate – Prefect of Judea, known for his brutality even by Roman standards
Herod – Tetrarch, ruler of Galilee
Philip – Herod’s half brother, ruler of the northeast part of the empire
Lysanias – Ruler of a territory on the western side of Mt. Hermon
Annas – High priest appointed by a Roman governor, later remembered for striking Jesus at his interrogation
Caiaphas, Annas’ son-in-law, chairman of the Sanhedrin, who later accused Jesus of sedition against Rome and turned Jesus over to Pilate for execution
On the other hand you have God who appears in the voice of one lone person named John, the one born to aging parents. And what is John doing to counteract the powers of the Roman Empire just listed? He’s out in the desert preaching repentance!
What was God thinking? What kind of a strategic plan was that for ushering in God’s reign? Do you ever marvel that these stories were ever remembered beyond their generation? The plan seem so flawed from the beginning – the forces of evil against the good appear so overwhelming.
But God had a plan. God knew that the longing of the human heart to be forgiven was more powerful than any tyranny Rome had to offer. And John went to the desert to offer the cleansing waters of baptism that burdens might be lifted and hope restored in places of human despair.
John’s task was to begin to prepare those who were seeking new life for the coming of the Messiah. He reaches back into their family album for pictures and language that make sense to his audience. He goes back to the ancient texts of Isaiah, written some six hundred years before, to remind them that God is faithful to his promises. He begins by telling them to “prepare a way for the Lord”.
That is the purpose of Advent.- to prepare a way for the Lord. It’s tough to find time to focus on preparing to receive the Christ Child anew when we are pulled in so many directions.
Sometimes we long for the clock to stop so that we can just catch up with ourselves before moving on to the next task at hand. Sometimes you just have to find something that works for you. Some have found Forward Day by Day, a short single page devotional available at the Bookshop, to be just the right size meditation to focus their day.
Others find attending one of the weekday services a helpful way of leaving the noise of the world for the focus of prayer that comes with being in sacred space.
I have a list of special intentions I am holding this Advent and use a feature on my phone’s calendar to have a post of those petitions on the screen every afternoon at 1pm. It’s probably not the highest form of living a prayerful life – but it works!
What I notice in life is that I am able to move heaven and earth to do things I love, but am slow to respond to the One who loves me the most.
This past fall I drove fifty miles out of the way to see a childhood friend while in the area – a choice that gladly extended my eight hour drive home another four hours. And yet I have to set an alarm on my phone to remember to pray for people! And I’m a priest! I get the cry of the psalmist who says, “Create in me a clean heart, O Lord, and renew a right spirit within me.”
Advent beckons me to a new life, a new way of being in the world. Advent tells me that God has a plan for breaking open my life in new and wondrous ways – even when the evidence is to the contrary. Advent bears the prophetic voice that says whenever the “Pilates” of strained finances, broken relationships, disappointments, sadness, illness, or self-loathing seek to diminish or take my life, a Messiah is coming who will fill in the valleys, lower the mountains, straighten the paths and smooth out the rough places and all for Love’s sake.
Advent tells me that the Christ of the manger is longing to come this year into the specific stories I am facing in my life right now. Advent calls me to wake up to and not miss the ever-present Messiah moments that occur each and every day.
I also hear in this text an invitation to mission. Where would we all be had someone not been a John the Baptist for us, loving us, letting us know that our outcome matters? Who have been those people in our lives who have given us a safe place to repent and seek forgiveness? Who is the one person who knows you, truly knows you? Who has been the one who enabled you to finally tell the truth? What was it about them that stirred up within you the inclination to turn your life in a new direction?
Stories like today’s gospel beckon us to have the courage of John to speak the truth in love that others might see the salvation of the Lord. John received those who had the courage to come to the desert, envisioned new life for them, let them know that their life mattered to him, washed them off, and set them on their feet. Who or what is your Advent mission? Who in your life desperately needs to hear the message of repentance and salvation?
May the weeks ahead be a time of holy preparation as we journey to the manger.
O come, O come, Emmanuel
And ransom captive Israel that mourns in lonely exile here until the Son of God appear.
Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel. Amen
(Words translated by John Mason Neale)
Trinity Cathedral Church