Reflections on Luke 3.1-6
The Second Sunday of Advent
6 December 2015
Saint Faith's Anglican Church
Click here to listen to the Sermon as preached at the 10.00 a.m. Eucharist on the 6th.
Two thousand years ago the world looked very much like our world today. The rich were getting richer and the poor poorer. People were migrating from various parts of the world to other regions in the hopes of finding security and the means to sustain their lives. In the Far East China was establishing itself as a regional power. In the Middle East Persia was pressing hard on the eastern borders of the Roman Empire. In the West the Roman Empire was expanding into regions of northern Europe including Britain.
One of the trouble spots in the Mediterranean world was a small country called by various names: Palestina if you were a Roman, Judah or Israel if you were a local inhabitant. For the Romans it was a key province. From it troops could sent to quell trouble in any of the provinces to the east, north and south. The problem was its population: a people who believed that they had been chosen by God as a sign to all the nations that there was only one God, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God of David, Solomon and the Maccabean freedom fighters whose struggle against oppression will be remembered for the next seven nights by our Jewish sisters and brothers.
The difficulty the Romans faced was the annoying frequency of Judean prophets who kept the flame of faith burning in the hearts of the people --- despite all efforts to keep popular hopes under control. John the Baptist was just such a prophet whose ministry brought rich and poor, faithful and not-so-faithful, partisans and the curious to the river Jordan. He proclaimed a vision of the coming of the reign of God into his time and his place. He called the people to change their perspective on world events and to look on them through the lens of the message he proclaimed.
This is what the prophets of the Bible do. They do not predict the future; they are not fortune-tellers. The prophets whose messages we read throughout the year were men and women called to speak God's word to their own generation. The prophets received a revelation, a vision, if you will, of what God was doing in their times and their places. It was the prophet's task to share the vision and to challenge the people to live this vision out in the hurly-burly of their lives.
John's message was dangerous to the status quo of his times. He dared to declare that God was about to do a new thing that would transform the world. This message was bad news to those in power and good news to those who, as the prophet Isaiah says, lived in darkness. John's message was profoundly political, because it challenged his listeners to decide who was 'lord' --- Caesar or the Holy One of Israel. Not a comfortable choice for anyone, I think, no matter when or where you are faced with the choice.
Most people think that prophets are solitary figures, but a thousand years before, a prophet named Moses expressed a different view. The Book of Numbers tells the story of how Moses was becoming exhausted as the spokesperson of God and mediator of disputes. God takes pity on Moses and tells him to choose some men from among the people. God will send the spirit on these men so that they can help bear Moses' burden. When the appointed hour comes and God's spirit descends upon the chosen, two of them fail to show up. But this does not deter God, and the spirit comes upon the men in the camp.
Joshua, Moses' chosen associate, complains that this is not the way it was supposed to be. 'Stop them,' he demands. 'Are you jealous for my sake?' says Moses, 'If only all the Lord's people were prophets with the placing his spirit on them!' (Numbers 11.28-29 in the Common English Bible)
My friends, in baptism you and I are washed by water and anointed by the Spirit to be prophets, a people who have received a vision of the world as God wills it to be and who have been called to proclaim that vision to the powerful and the weak, to the well-fed and the hungry, to the oppressors and the oppressed. It is a deeply political vocation, because it means declaring one's allegiance. As Christians we choose to identify ourselves with Jesus of Nazareth, his teaching, his example, his mission. We participate in that mission
- when we proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom
- when we teach, baptize and nurture new believers
- when we respond to human need by loving service
- when we transform unjust structures of society, to challenge violence of every kind and pursue peace and reconciliation
- when we serve to safeguard the integrity of creation, and sustain and renew the life of the earth. Five Marks of Mission of the Anglican Communion
These tasks are not simple nor risk-free. The good news of the kingdom will always come as bad news to some. Teaching, baptizing and nurturing new believers means opening ourselves to the possibility of change in our own understanding of the faith. Serving the needs of others is not always easy. Confronting the powers the seek to destroy the children of God can bring subtle as well as active opposition. Being good stewards of creation will cost us as we seek more just and equitable ways to share the resources of our planet.
But we, as a prophetic people, are God's voice. We call to our sisters and brothers living in our neighbourhoods to look at the world and their lives in new ways. We live our lives in the public arena and witness to God's compassion by our acts of self-giving. We are the answer to Moses' prayer that all God's people might be prophets of the coming reign of justice and peace. We are the continuation of John's ministry in the wilderness of contemporary life, inviting people to greet the coming of a new day. We make Christ present in our own times and places, so that all might know a way that is life-giving rather than death-dealing. We are the voice in the wilderness, crying out, 'Prepare the way of the Lord . . . , [so that all] humanity will see God's salvation.' (Luke 3.4b, 6 in the Common English Bible)