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,??2during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness.??3He went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins,??4as 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.??5Every 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;??6and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.??????
For 2 weeks we've talked about the importance of a bright witness for Christ during this holiday season. ??The Christmas holiday has many points of contact with an unbelieving world, as our traditions and celebrations overlap. ??We have ample opportunities to share the good news that comes through our celebration of Advent, as we prepare for the coming of the Christ-child. ??The coming of Jesus is the joy of our experience and it's effect on our lives goes way beyond the sweet story of a baby in a manger. ??As Christians we get to talk about salvation, reconciliation, and renewal. ??We know that there is so much more to this than presents, trees, garland, and eggnog.
But we've also talked a bit about not being annoying, getting mad, or getting defensive when people aren't keeping the "Christ" in "Christmas." ??Our job is to guide the way like the star atop the tree; we are to shine a great light in the darkness like the twinkling lights in our living rooms at night. ??We are ornaments in the world, telling our story and sharing our experience. ??And then from last week, we were reminded of the reality that Christ WILL return, that though we do not know the day or the hour, we are to be ready, able to raise our heads as our salvation draws near (Luke 21.28). ??And so as we hold in tension the arrival of the Christ-child and the coming of Christ-the-King, we turn to the shining example of John the baptist.??
Luke's opening line is grandiose, naming the political heavy-hitters that were around when John's ministry began ??? Emperor Tiberius, Governor Pilate, Kings Herod, Philip, Trachonitis, and Lysanias, with Annas and Caiaphas serving as high priests. ??With all this information, Luke has provided us with a wonderful historical marker as to when John's ministry took place. ??But is that all that Luke means by starting this way? ??We can be sure that this information helps us locate the story for historical context, but there is more at stake with the mentioning these names.
You see, the reality is that these names belong to the ones who held great power and sway throughout the world Jesus lived in. ??Each of these rulers held political, social, and religious power for the culture and the day-to-day lives of the people. ??But when Luke says "???the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness," there is a whole lot more going on. ??
1) For starters, the phrase "???the word of God came to???" connects John with the great prophets of the Old Testament, people who were charged with the task of bringing earth-shaking news from God to the people. ??This Old Testament connection helps to legitimize John's *ministry* by connecting him with figures from the past. ??But the connection also gives gravity to John's *message*. ??Those to whom John speaks are being prepared for news that carries great weight and great meaning. ??In other words, "listen up!"
2) But the phrase is also important because of who it is that the word of God has came to. ??The great and powerful word of God did not come to the Roman rulers, the emperor or governor. ??God's word was not found on the lips of the local kings or rulers of the area. ??In fact, this prophetic word didn't come to the high priests serving the temple in Jerusalem. ??The word of God came to John ??? a man of no significant reputation or authority, living in the wilderness. ??He was obscure, out of place, and disconnected from the world as it was. ??But that was the key, because in order for John to get his message across, it would take a voice crying out from the wilderness. ??John's message depended upon his separation from the rest of the world because it needed to be heard above the other voices that the people were used to. ??This word wasn't from the usual outlets. ??This was from God.
And so the word came to John and it's call was to make preparations for the way of the Lord. ??God's salvation is coming and all eyes will witness its arrival. ??It is coming in the person of Jesus. ??But the way that is being prepared is not so much a road into a city or a place in society. ??The way that is being prepared is a way into the heart. ??The call of John to the world is a call to repentance for the forgiveness of sins, a forgiveness that only Christ can accomplish. ??The saving work that is coming will not come from Rome, it will not come from their kings, and will not come from their religious establishment. ??It will come from Jesus, as announced by a wilderness prophet.??
What does this mean for *us*? ??It means that within each of our own hearts, their are mountains that need to be lowered; they're are valleys that need to be filled; there are windy roads that need to be straightened; and there are rocky paths that can be smoothed. ??Only Jesus Christ can do such things in our lives, and more specifically in our hearts. ??If we are open, the word that came to John can change and transform our hearts, filling those valleys and smoothing those rough places. ??
Jesus has come to do such a work in the lives of those who would see and hear. ??His very name, Jesus, means "God helps" or "God saves", as we learn in Matthew 1.21, when the angel revealed to Joseph that Jesus would save the people from their sins. ??And his work is significant because it is not something anyone else can do. ??No emperor, governor, king, or priest will ever be able to take away our sins. ??But *the way* must be prepared and the journey begins with us. ??John is calling us ALL to the river, down to the waters where sin is washed away and life begins anew through the power of Jesus Christ.
We are being invited to prepare the way for the good news to come this Advent and Christmas season. ??Each of our lives has the ability to be a brick that paves the way to salvation for others. ??Shining forth your witness this season means that many can come to know Jesus Christ as Lord; as the true reason for the season; and that salvation has come near and that abundant life is found swaddled in a manger. ??The world needs to know that Christmas is about so much more than the "thing" we've made it. ??Go, prepare the way of the Lord, both in your hearts and in these streets today. ??Amen.
Rev. Whit R. Martin
Pastor, New Liberty United Methodist Church
Devotional Blog ??? revwrm.posterous.com/