Fairmeadow Community Church of The Nazarene
Advent 2 December 5, 2021
- 1 In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar—when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, Herod tetrarch of Galilee, his brother Philip tetrarch of Iturea and Traconitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene— 2 during the high-priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness. 3 He went into all the country around the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 4 As it is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet: “A voice of one calling in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him. 5 Every valley shall be filled in, every mountain and hill made low. The crooked roads shall become straight, the rough ways smooth. 6 And all people will see God’s salvation.’ ”INTRODUCTION When we think of the most iconic Christmas text, we think of Luke 2. When we think of Advent texts, we think of Luke 3—or at least we should. It’s the story of John the Baptist, the one who is calling out in the wilderness, “Prepare the way for the Lord.” This cry of preparation is one we often think about during Advent, and rightfully so because Advent is a time of anticipation and preparation. This text seems appropriate for the season of Advent, but it may seem an odd one for a week in which we talk about peace. John the Baptist doesn’t encapsulate the image of Advent or Christmas peace that we usually picture. He’s depicted as a bit of a wild man, living in the wilderness, wearing strange clothes, eating odd things, and crying out to people to repent. When we think of Advent and Christmas peace, we usually picture babies who don’t cry and pastoral images of sheep with shepherds, not wild and loud calls for repentance. Yet John the Baptist in Luke 3 paints a picture of a time of peace that is borrowed from the prophet Isaiah. He describes a time when crooked paths are made straight and rough places made smooth. It’s a powerful image of God literally changing the landscape. It’s an image of the day of the Lord, a day longed for by the people, a day when all will be made right. A day of peace. But this picture of peace that John paints is not one of silent babies and softly bleating sheep; it’s a picture of divine loving action and a hard journey of work and repentance that ultimately leads to the peace of Christ. It’s the kingdom of God coming to earth in unexpected ways.THE TEXT BEGINS BY CONTRASTING THE KINGDOMS OF THE WORLD WITH THE KINGDOM OF GODa. Luke sets the stage by describing the current kingdom and political powers at play. The list includes the emperor, the governor, various other political leaders, and even the religious high priests of the day—because political/kingdom power was the avenue through which people thought the Messiah would come. They thought peace on earth would come through the powers of the elite: through warfare, through the law, or through having the most firepower and/or the most clout. b. After this list of political rulers and powers comes a simple line in verse 2: “God’s word came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness.” This seemingly small line begins to draw the reader to see the very different kingdom God is creating. The kingdom of God is not entering through the political center but seems to be coming from a wilderness place. The kingdom of God is not entering through those with power but through a prophet with little clout. c. Although Luke 3 doesn’t directly reference the birth of Christ, the immediately preceding chapter does, which means that this list of political leaders and powers—read directly after the narrative of Christ’s birth and childhood—highlights this contrast of kingdoms even more. God’s kingdom is not operating in the ways of the world with shows of military power, violence, money, or control; it is operating very differently.JOHN IS BAPTIZING PEOPLE INTO A NEW KIND OF CITIZENSHIPThe hearers of the original text would have been familiar with the idea of baptism because converts to Judaism were baptized, and there were various religious ceremonies that involved cleansing with water. The radical part of John’s message wasn’t in the act of baptism but in what he was asking of those who came to be baptized. John called the people snakes (verse 7) and told them to stop relying on their heritage (verse 8) for salvation. He told them they needed to repent—to completely change their hearts and minds. This reminds me of something my grandpa used to always say: the house he grew up in was so small you had to step outside to change your mind, lol. There is a lot of truth there. Our worlds can get small and cramped without faith and real life change. This act of repentance would lead to significant change in the ways people lived (see verses 11, 13, 14). It starts with believing better things. It builds when we see the world in new ways. It finds fulfillment when we spring into action along these new lines. This reorientation was not dependent on family legacy or heritage but was different altogether. When we look at the list of those who came to be baptized, we also see something interesting: in the crowd were tax collectors and soldiers. Tax collectors controlled much of the economy at the time, and were known to cheat people for personal gain. John commanded them to stop collecting dishonestly. Soldiers were the powerful arm of the Roman government, so when John commanded them to stop harassing others, he was asking people employed to be the violent instigators and force of Roman law demonstrate God-honoring humanity to others. c. This contrast of the kingdoms of the earth to the kingdom of God is important to understand the ways in which God is seeking to bring peace on earth. It is clear that what John preached, and the ways people responded, were different from what people expected.GOD CALLS US TO BE A VOICE, TO JOIN HIM IN SMOOTHING PATHWAYS, FILLING IN VALLEYS, STRAIGHTENING WHAT IS CROOKED.a. When we think of peace, we don’t usually imagine earthquakes, but that is the type of image we get from verse 5 in today’s scripture. Things are being shaken up. b. When we think of peace we don’t usually imagine sandpaper, but that is the type of image we get from verse 5 as well: the rough places will be made smooth. Things are being refined and smoothed out. c. These images of the kingdom of God—a kingdom of peace being brought about in the world—are ones of action and movement. God’s divine action and call, followed by loving human action in the world. It is obvious that the kingdom of God is not going to come in the ways people expected. We already noted that repentance and baptism are odd ways to build earthly kingdoms, which are usually formed by money, power, and control. But even so, the kingdom of God is not breaking through with only gentleness. Ultimately, there is power, and real change, real movement behind the kingdom of God.d. Peace is not passivity, and the peace of God is coming through in sometimes painful ways because the powers of the world have to be dismantled in order for peace to reign. The Roman Empire did not stand. But without owning anything the early church rose up as a force of change and healing in the world.We often speak of level playing fields for people, and this text is a great time to revisit that metaphor. When the ground isn’t level, that means injustice is happening, and where there is injustice, there won’t be lasting peace. The kingdom of God creates a level playing field, which means justice for people. This is connected, as well, to John telling the crowds to share what they have with others, a message revisited by Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount. A kingdom of peace is one in which people have what they need and justice reigns. Crooked paths being made straight might not mean much to us today with our modern travel technology, but the clarity and ability to see the way ahead—as opposed to risking the possibility of getting robbed by those hiding around bends—was an image early listeners would have understood instantly. A world where we don’t have to fear the bends in the road is very different from one in which soldiers could be hiding to harass us. This is also an important reference for the soldiers who ask John later in the chapter what they should be doing. Rough places being made smooth might be an image we can better grasp. We talk often about going through rough patches, or having a rough time. But we also have to note that the smoothing-out process is often not one of ease or comfort. The Holy Spirit will nudge us. Challenges form us deeply as we rely on God. Obedience creates opportunities for us and for others.iv. A kingdom of peace is one that moves in action toward others, looking out for the interests of others, instead of solely ourselves. This type of peace is both a joyful and at times a painful process. It takes sacrifice, repentance, and a complete reorientation of life. But the rewards are great for so many.GOD’S KINGDOM OF PEACE ENTERS INTO THE WORLD THROUGH ORDINARY PEOPLEa. John the Baptist was not a ruler; he was a wild man in the wilderness preaching repentance and preparing a path for Christ. b. The crowds seeking baptism were ordinary people looking for more. c. The tax collectors were viewed as some of the worst sinners—yet they were called to a new way. d. The soldiers were caught up in the Roman Empire yet sought something new. e. Even the Messiah himself entered in an ordinary and unspectacular way. f. We too are empowered by God. We too are called to this work—to repent and be transformed, that we might participate in the kingdom of God, in the kingdom of peace, and in the world around us.CONCLUSION Peacemaking is not an easy task. It’s not something we attempt in the flesh. It is God’s great work in the world and he invites us to join Him in it. It is not an image of babies who don’t cry or of sheep resting in quiet fields. It’s the image, instead, of more ordinary scenes that make way for the Kingdom of Peace, an image of a parent who breaks a cycle of abuse by doing the hard, smoothing work of therapy so that their child can grow up in a better home. It’s the image of civil-rights activists sitting at counters and singing “This Little Light of Mine.” It’s the grandmother on her knees night after night, praying for her neighborhood. It’s people who wash graffiti off walls without expecting or requesting recognition. It’s church members reorienting our lives toward others. It’s the hard, everyday moments of working for justice in a world that is so far from it. Rev. Olivia Metcalf says in Come Peasant, King, “The path toward peace isn’t easy. The path toward peace isn’t smooth. The path toward peace is risky, takes courage, and challenges the broken realities of the world. For peace to come, we must get to the hard work of aligning a world made crooked by sin with the straight paths of the kingdom of God. For peace to come, there is creative work that makes valleys of despair into mountaintops of hope. For peace to come, there is repetitive work that sands away injustice to bring about the smoothness of equity. Without the work, without the challenge, and without upsetting the status quo, peace will not come” (pp. 36-37). And so we pray and trust God. This is God’s work after all. And so we see the world through different eyes, Jesus’ eyes of love. In the strength he provides, we work to see changes in the lives around us. We don’t just tell people about Jesus. We show them that he cares. We work together to make their lives better in Him. So they experience true peace.We work to see the kingdom here on earth as it is in heaven, and to see peace in our lives and in the lives of those around us. We work so that the world might know the ultimate peace that comes not from the kingdoms and powers of the world but from the very heart of God.May the Kingdom of God come. May we find ways to live into this new reality. To work to see it fully until Jesus comes again. May he find us faithful. May he find us as agents of peace.Let’s pray....
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