2nd Sunday in Advent
December 6, 2015
Luke 3: 1-6 You can click on this link to open the reading in Oremus Bible Browser.
The news about the shooting in San Bernardino just about did me in. It’s a part of the world I know, a devastated section of LA County way below the poverty line and in need of everything. The one thing that community didn’t need was another big shooting and ugly chapter to its grimy story. What is wrong with the world? You can call this one terrorism because the shooters were more influenced by hatred from another part of the world, but hatred is hatred, and disregard for the lives of people goes by many names; racism, police brutality, road rage, protection of fetal life, you fill in the blanks.
“Prayer won’t fix this.” “God didn’t fix it!” say the headlines. And yet in this season of Advent, we get ready to celebrate that God came to us in Jesus, fully human, into a world as violent and divided and pitiful as ours. What was he thinking?
Luke, the Evangelist, who wrote the Gospel story we will be reading in the coming year, goes out of his way to place the events of Jesus’ coming in its historical context.
“In the 15th 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, during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness.”
Not only does Luke place John historically, he also contrasts him with the mighty and powerful. This is going to be an important message in Luke’s version of the story of Jesus. Just think of who the major players are in the earliest chapters – the ones we read at Christmas: our teenage mother Mary, pregnant outside of marriage, and the shepherds, equivalents of homeless people, who get the choir of angels announcing the fulfillment of the promises made to God’s people thousands of years ago.
God doesn’t announce God’s presence on the front page of the New York Times, or from the throne of the Emperor Tiberius. God comes to this weird guy out in the wilderness. No one wants to be out there, because it is a place of chaos. All those prophesies from all those years ago descend on John and he is afire to wake everyone up to what’s about to happen.
He’s a voice. Just one. Telling everyone to turn around, to give up their pre-conceived ideas about how God is coming, and to ask for eyes to see the truth about what the world really needs.
Is the repentance that John calls for still echoing down over the years to us who are so quick to fear, to separate people into good and bad, who want to be right about what’s wrong and cut ourselves off from those who disagree. The newspapers are right that our prayers alone aren’t going to fix the world. But what if our prayers wake us up to how easy it is to put people in categories instead of seeing them as human beings. It’s true that God is not going to reach down and change the evils of hatred that make shooters so inhuman. But what if our prayers are meant to soften our own hearts towards those whom we hate.
You see, the thing is that we are all guilty of seeing the world as “us” and “them” and congratulating ourselves on how good we are. Our humanity is both the best thing about us and the worst: it’s what makes us compassionate, but it is also the very thing that makes for holocaust, ethnic cleansing, and internment camps. Jesus may have been crazy to want to be human with us, but we need to remember that he did it anyway. He came to start the world all over again, because he knew we couldn’t do it on our own. Jesus left us a new world and a new future for all the earth. He came to surround us with God’s love and mercy. He tells us that we are forgiven for failing to love as we are loved. We don’t have to prove that we are good enough to be loved by God – we just are, because God loves. But we have to remember that God loves all people, not just the ones we like or trust.
So in this day when Barak Obama is the President of the United States of America, and Kate Brown is the Governor of Oregon, Mike McCabe is the Crook County Judge and Betty Roppe is the Mayor of Prineville, Elizabeth Eaton is the Presiding Bishop of the ELCA, David Brauer-Rieke is the Bishop of the Oregon Synod, the word of God comes to us, you and me. Repent and be forgiven for your failure to love as you have been loved. Wake up to the fact that God is at work in your heart writing a different story than fear and suspicion . Will we need bulldozers hacking up the landscape to see our story as part of God’s story? Will we join John’s voice in the wilderness? Maybe our story of learning to understand God’s love for humanity in Jesus is the voice someone needs to hear in this time of chaos. God has already changed the world in Jesus, but the world won’t hear of that change without us, on our knees, grateful for the freedom we enjoy, the forgiveness we have not earned, and the power of God’s love to set us on a new path.
Now more than ever, may the peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, our Lord. Amen.