Second Sunday of Advent, Year 3/C
GOSPEL READING; LUKE 3:1-6.
Vs.1 In the fifteenth year of Tiberius Caesar’s reign, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judaea, Herod tetrarch of Galilee, his brother Philip tetrarch of the lands of Ituraea and Trachonitis, Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene,
Vs.2 during the pontificate of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah, in the wilderness.
Vs.3 He went through the whole Jordan district proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins,
Vs.4 As it is written in the book of the sayings of the prophet Isaiah:
A voice cries in the wilderness:
Prepare a way for the Lord,
Make his paths straight.
Vs.5 Every valley will be filled in,
Every mountain and hill be laid low,
Winding ways will be straightened,
And rough roads made smooth.
Vs.6 And all mankind shall see the salvation of God
DEEPER LISTENING. LUKE 3:1-6
BROADER HISTORICAL CONTEXT
As is the custom during Advent, John the Baptist is presented to us as a model of Advent waiting. Luke situates John’s ministry on the timeline of world events, “in the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar”, intending his audience to view him in the light of both civil and religious history. He moves from a wide focus to a narrower one by considering firstly the Roman Emperor (Tiberius), then Palestine’s local rulers (Pilate, Herod, Philip, Lysanias), and finally Israel’s priestly leaders (Annas, Caiaphas). Tiberius Caesar was the Roman Emperor from AD 14-37 – his fifteenth year falls between AD 27 and 29. Pontius Pilate was the Roman procurator who governed Judea from AD 26-36. Herod governed Galilee and his half-brother Philip governed the regions north east of Galilee. Lysanias governed the territory north of Palestine called Abilene. Israel’s high priests held office one at a time. Roman authorities appointed and deposed these priests at will. Annas (AD6-15) and his son in law Caiaphas (AD18-36) were high priests.
Where did this take place? The word of God came to John “in the wilderness” in the “Jordan district”- the wilderness in Judea was a stark place, a place of no roads, little food or drink. It was a forbidding, hostile place where one would feel vulnerable, alone and abandoned. For the Jews it recalled the 40 years of journeying in the wilderness where they often felt abandoned and forgotten by God. It is close to the river Jordan, a river with strong biblical connotations for the Jewish people.
When did this happen? John was the son of Elizabeth and Zechariah – a Levite Priest of the Temple. Therefore, John would have been entitled to inherit his father’s work but for some reason chose not to – perhaps discouraged and disillusioned by what he saw of corruption and decadence in the Temple. He turned his back on it and withdrew to the wilderness where “the word of God came” to him.
Who was there? In the first section we hear of the “important” Political and religious leaders – men of considerable worldly wealth, power, influence and control;
John, a drop-out, rebel, independent and charismatic figure alone in the wilderness “preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” Luke sees John as the fulfillment of the Prophet, spoken of by Isaiah 40:4, (to the Jewish people in exile in Babylon) who would herald a new dawn of hope and liberation for God’s people.
What happened? In the wilderness all the outward signs suggest the absence of God. Yet in that place John dares to trust and believe that God is already on the way and very soon he will make his presence felt, “Prepare the way…” John’s is not a lamenting voice, but rather a voice that proclaims with confidence that God is coming – “a voice cries in the wilderness”. His message to those in the Jordan region is – you think God has forgotten and abandoned you, it feels like it, but I can tell you, with certainty, he is on his way.
John proclaims that there is a new dawn imminent and calls on his Jewish brothers and sisters to get ready for it, to begin the work (which will sometimes mean repentance), this work will be built on and completed when God manifests his presence. God’s coming will usher in a new time of wholeness and harmony in human relationships. The valleys of fear and despair will be filled in. The mountains of division, enmity and separation of peoples will be levelled. There will be no more winding ways – crookedness, deception and malice will end. The rough roads of hardships, tragedy and troubles in life will be made smooth. His coming will be an experience of reconciliation, restoration, and liberation. And it is for everyone, not only for the Jews -“all mankind shall see the salvation of God”.
All the readings for the second Sunday of Advent nurture and nourish the spirituality of Advent – this atmosphere of waiting and trusting and working with joyful hope, confident that God’s liberating work is at hand. In the first reading Baruch uses rich poetic imagery to comfort and encourage the people of Israel who were in exile in Babylon “Arise Jerusalem, stand on the heights and turn your eyes to the east; see your sons reassembled from west and east, at the command of the holy one, jubilant that God has remembered them. Now God brings them back to you, like royal Princes carried back in glory.” The theme of liberation is celebrated and echoed in that much loved Psalm (125) “When the Lord delivered Zion from bondage, it seemed like a dream. Then was our mouth filled with laughter, on our lips there were songs.”
And again, in the second reading Paul writing from captivity strikes a note of joy, hope and encouragement for the Christians of Philippi to prepare for the final coming “I am certain that the One who began this good work in you will see that it is finished when the day of Christ comes.” Christ came, Christ is coming now today, and Christ will come again (the end of the world).
GUIDELINES FOR MEDITATION
What event or happening in your life helped you to move from an understanding of God up there in the heavens, to a God down here among us, at work in the various historical situations in our lives and in our world? – In the fifteenth year of Tiberius Caesar’s reign…
Looking back on your life and the life of those dear to you, would you say that more often than not, it was when you were in the “wilderness” that God’s word came to you – that you experienced the power of his presence at work in you or others?
Who was the John the Baptist person who touched your life, or your community, or church, in the wilderness, and gave you the courage and the confidence to believe you had a future, that God had not forgotten you and that He was coming to save you – that “every valley will be filled in, every mountain and hill be laid low..?”
Can you remember the experiences in the “wilderness” when your own dream for yourself or others carried you and sustained you and empowered you to keep going?”
Remember the times in your life when you just knew in your heart that God was calling you to something more, that God was calling you to grow, to grow in love. Somebody or some situation reminded you that you were capable of more, of being a greater instrument of healing, reconciling or wholeness – “to a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sin…”
Can you remember when you moved from a narrow perspective of God’s salvation being only for a few, to a realization that God’s salvation is truly for all? What triggered it?
Remember a happening, event or encounter in your own life, or in the life of the world, which has reminded you of the truth of an old saying or wise word that you heard long ago or saw written down -‘As it is written in the book of the Prophet Isaiah.’ Now you can see it