Posted on Dec 09, 2018 by Pastor Dave Whetter
Last week we began the Season of Advent by reading from near the end of Luke’s Gospel, and today, on this second Sunday in Advent, we go back almost to the beginning of Luke’s Gospel, which reads almost like a history lesson. It starts with a listing of the “who’s who” of 1st century rulers. Make no mistake, Luke is making a political statement about the times. He begins his orderly account of the Gospel by reminding listeners that Judea was not free, a Roman governor ruled it, and the Jewish leaders operated under the rule of the Roman emperor Tiberius. The men Luke mentions in some way all claimed to be the “saviors” of the people. Their positions and their titles made them important, and each in their own way proclaimed to care for the welfare of the people, but the real truth was that each of these “saviors” had self-interests in mind and mostly sought to lead in ways that cared for their own needs. These were not the saviors of the people, even though they proclaimed to be. The world as it was, and is still today, was not how God had intended his people live, but it was the reality of the world.
And so, into that reality, God’s word came. Now at that time, many had come to believe that God had abandoned his people. God had not sent a prophet to her people since the prophet Malachi, which had been almost 400 years. But Luke says, “during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness” (Luke 3:2). This is a critical statement because it was an ancient statement that let the people know that the words John would speak would not be his own because he was a true prophet, like the prophets of old that had been called directly by God. You see, the phrase “The word of God came to ...” is often found in the Hebrew scriptures, followed by the name of one of the prophets. It’s how stories of the call of prophets and their messages begin. God’s word would come to the prophets and God’s words would grab hold of people like Jeremiah and Ezekiel. So when, in the time of Jesus, “the word of God came to John,” it meant that prophecy wasn’t obsolete! God’s word still came to Israel! And John prophesied. John would not be the fulfillment of the ancient prophecy, but he was the one preparing the way for the coming of the Word of God to our world; the eternal Word who was with God in the beginning.
Into the brokenness of the world, God’s Word came, not to the rulers of the day, but to a lowly man who was in the wilderness. Now it shouldn’t be surprising that the word of God came to John “in the wilderness (eremos)” (3:2), but I do find it to be extremely important for us. The significance of the wilderness was established in Jewish tradition long before John the Baptist showed up there. The Hebrew Bible not only portrays the wilderness as a place of desolation and scarcity, but also as a place of safety and the divine.
As we look to the history of our God, we will note that when Moses was alone and afraid for his life, the word of God came to Moses in the burning bush in the wilderness. When David was running from the wrath of King Saul, he ran to the wilderness where he experienced God’s protection. The wilderness, although at times a lonely and scary place, has always been a place where God remains with us.
And so, in the midst of all of the self-proclaimed saviors that Luke notes, God came to John and said, it is time to prepare a new way for the One who will come to bring salvation to all humanity (Luke 3:6). The world was not as it was supposed to be and the word of God grabbed John’s heart, and John would deliver a message of hope and promise. Now, although John gave his message while he was in the wilderness, it was intended to have its impact on all people, not only people who came out to the wilderness, but those who stayed on the farms, or in the villages, and cities where the ordinary and the powerful live out their daily lives. With boldness John called out the ways of this world and said they were not God’s ways. Although it would mean losing his life, John spoke God’s truth about the law of the land, and because God’s word grabbed his heart and John knew that the ways of the human rulers were not the ways of God. As John would proclaim throughout his ministry, no law, no human ruler should ever come before the love and the ways of God.
Throughout his ministry, John’s words challenged the people of his day, and you and I today, to examine our own lives and the world around us. We should not be complacent in the face of injustice, but instead seek forgiveness and strive for lives that bear fruit according to God’s vision for the world. We should not look to place our faith in the “saviors” of this world, but in the One true Savior who has promise to bring salvation to all flesh.
On the second Sunday in the Season of Advent, we are reminded by the words of John, that it is still our call to “Prepare the way of the Lord, and make his paths straight.” All too often though we tend “over-spiritualize” these words and separate them from our daily lives. The call to prepare the way of the Lord is a call to live lives that demonstrate God’s ways not just here in our faith community but in everything we do, even when we are in the midst of earthly rulers who tell us differently. John provides a warning about ignoring the truth about our sinfulness and the brokenness in the world. But John also repeats the promise that God ultimately will not settle for the way things are in the world, and that God’s salvation will be made known in the one who is to come, Jesus.
This is a hopeful and necessary message for us today. It doesn’t take much effort to imagine our world as a desert. Scarcity, isolation, hunger, and violence seem to rule the day. The pain and injustice around us can make us wonder whether God is at work in this wilderness. But today we are reminded that even though we are in the wilderness, the wilderness is precisely where God provides what we need, so that we can now be the ones “crying out in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way of the Lord.’ ”
What is fascinating about John is that he didn’t concern himself with what the rulers of this world thought or said. No, his primary concern was God’s people. His primary interest was to call God’s people, that’s you and me, out of our status quo lives and into lives that were are more aligned with God’s ways and God’s redemptive purpose. For John, “preparing the way” was not about changing others, it was about changing ourselves. If we want to prepare the way of the Lord, then John says turn to God and embrace God’s ways. Instead of creating ways to keep people out of our communities, instead of turning away those who are in need because we don’t think they deserve it, instead of using our blessings to only take care of ourselves, John says, “repent” and turn to God and God’s ways.
What is God’s way? Well, according to the prophet Isaiah, which John quotes in our text this morning, it is to bring salvation to ALL flesh. Yes, God’s salvation is for EVERYONE, not just a few of us. These are not my words, but the words of both the prophet Isaiah and the prophet John. God intends to bring redemption to all humanity.
In those days, God’s word came to the prophet John, and today God’s word comes to you and me. It’s our time to recognize that there is only one true Savior, and that Savior is Jesus Christ. It’s our time, in both our words and in our actions, to prepare the way for him to come again. Amen.