December 6, 2015
Second Sunday of Advent
Grace and Peace to you this morning. Grace and Peace.
The first verse of the third chapter of Luke’s Gospel seems a little strange. We are supposed to be talking about Jesus, and John the baptizer, and the works of God, and here we have a list of those who are in charge of the world.
Tiberius is emperor; Pontius Pilate, his governor for Judea; Herod ruling over Galilee; Herod’s brother Philip and Lysanias ruling the other areas. It even lists the high priests: Annas and Caiaphas. Why this list of political and religious dignitaries? Why all the powers and principalities of this world getting billing here in the Gospel?
They are listed because they may be the leaders of this world, but the Word of God does not come to them. Where does the Word of God come? Not in the Roman Senate, not in the palaces of Caesar, or Pilate, or Herod, or Philip, or Lysanias, not even in the Temple with the Holy of Holies and the high priest Annas and Caiaphas.
The Word of God does not bother with these. It comes to the son of a priest, out in the wilderness. There are far more important people than John, aren’t there? Some PK out in the wilderness, wearing hippy clothes, eating a Paleo diet before Paleo was cool, fasting and praying so far from the centers of Roman power, so far from the center of religious power, and this is where the Word of God comes.
Let me put it another way. Were this story to happen today, it might well read:
In the sixth year of Barack Obama’s presidency, when Rick Snyder was the Governor of Michigan, and Pastors Phil and Tom were serving First Congregational Church of Charlotte, United Church of Christ, the Word of the Lord came to some crazy guy as far from civilization as you can get. You know, up in the UP.
The Word of God shows up where God wants it, not where we might expect it. God is not impressed with titles, or earthly power, or church authority. The wind of the Holy Spirit blows where it wills, not where we want it to.
Maybe we think the Holy Spirit should blow the Word of God to the high priests of our other religions: money, guns, sports, celebrity.
But the Word of God comes to those to whom it comes. And those to whom it comes cannot stay silent. When the Holy Spirit shows up in Luke, people speak. Even John, in Elizabeth’s womb, when Mary comes to visit with Jesus in her womb, John kicks so hard Elizabeth tells Mary that her baby jumped for joy.
And Zechariah, when he backs up Elizabeth on the name she has given her child, and his tongue is loosed, he praises God and says:
Thus he has shown the mercy promised to our ancestors, and has remembered his holy covenant, the oath that he swore to our ancestor Abraham, to grant us that we, being rescued from the hands of our enemies, might serve him without fear, in holiness and righteousness before him all our days.
Or said another way: God remembers and we are rescued from our enemies. God remembers, so we who are being rescued may serve without fear. God remembers, so we who may serve may rescue others.
What kind of enemies are we being rescued from? To bring Paul into the conversation, our struggle is not against flesh and blood but against the powers and principalities of this world. God is rescuing us from those things that would kill us: fear, hatred, pain, addiction, violence, anxiety. We experience these powers so profoundly that they cloud our ability to see children of God and we only see us and them, good and bad, light skin and dark skin, Christian and Muslim, citizen and refugee, worthy and unworthy.
By the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high will break upon us, to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.
And his son, John the baptizer, knowing that people do not care what you know, or what you believe, or what you say, went out and showed it and did it.
And prophets throughout the ages, from John to Martin Luther King, Jr., have echoed the words of Isaiah:
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.
We who are being saved, we who are being rescued, we who are on the path of healing, we too can serve without fear. We too can help to save and rescue and heal others. Even if the Word of God does not come to us and make us speak holy utterances, we can do what it has been telling us to do all along: to practice justice, and to be devoted to loving-kindness, and to walk with humility with our God.
Come quickly Lord Jesus, as dawn follows night, for we need you, and we need to help others in need as well.
Thanks be to God.