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Advent 2C Sermon
Luke 1:68-79; 3:1-6
December
9, 2018

 

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May the grace, mercy and peace of God our Father be with us, in the name of his risen son, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ; Amen.

Today we heard two passages from Luke’s Gospel – the first was our Psalmody, sometimes called Zechariah’s Song or the “Benedictus”, it is the prophecy that John the Baptist’s father spoke right after he confirmed that his son’s name would indeed be John. The other is our Gospel reading, the introduction of John’s presence and ministry breaking into the scene to prepare the way for the messiah to come to power.

As we chanted the beginning of the Benedictus, we joined our voices with old Zechariah in blessing God for having looked favorably upon his people and redeeming them. But in verse 76, Zechariah’s attention turns from blessing God to addressing his newborn son. “And you, child, shall be called a prophet of the Most High, for you will go before the Lord to prepare his way, to give God’s people knowledge of salvation by the forgiveness of their sins.” When I sing those words, I feel the power of the liturgy and I hope that you do as well. We remember these old passages from the Bible in our worship forms – we sing them, speak them and pray them and sometimes their meanings get lost. But today I want to encourage you to picture Zechariah speaking to you personally – “You, Ralph – child of God – shall be a prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare the way; to give knowledge of salvation by the forgiveness of their sins.” It is not only a prophecy sung to a tiny baby long ago. As we participate in this advent liturgical practice we hear and share these words as they are sung to and with the baptized children of God who are called to prepare the way for Christ. We should take them very personally ourselves. John paved the way for Christ during his earthly ministry; more importantly, he paved the way for all other disciples and prophets through the years who still today seek to follow and proclaim that Christ has broken into the world – even and especially those of us who are gathered here! You may ask, “What kind of a difference can I make in this mission in the world? I am not important or powerful in any sense in this world.” That sentiment leads us to the second Lukan passage that we shared this morning.

Luke is unique in relation to the other Gospel writers as he introduces us to John and to Jesus, in that he names the secular rulers in the midst of recounting the story. We hear names like, “Emporer Tiberius, Pontius Pilate, Herod, Philip, Lysanius, Annas and Caiaphas.” These are people whose lives can be verified by checking historical records to prove that they did live and rule and were important people. For Luke, it is important that we understand that Jesus and John lived right alongside of these people – they are not made up figments of someone’s imagination! They came as real people in order to save real people – us!

But there is an even more important reason for Luke to mention these men alongside of John and Jesus. It is because they all commanded the complete servitude of the people who lived under them. They carried great power in their day. To hear John’s and Jesus’ names alongside theirs is a little bit of a joke. I often talk about my favorite episode of the old sitcom, “Cheers” - the one when Cliffy got the chance to go on Jeopardy. When the announcer introduced the contestants as the game show started it sounded like this: “From Boston this is Jeopardy. Let’s meet our contestants: A doctor and chief of neurosurgery from Boston General Hospital, Milford Reynolds; A lawyer and mother of 6, Agnes Dorsey; and a mailman, Cliff Clavin.” It is funny because we wouldn’t think the mailman would have a chance against the intelligence of the first two contestants. It is the same thing as we hear the names and positions of Tiberius, Pilate, Herod, Philip, Lysanias, Annas and Caiaphas AND … John. The first seven represented the collective power of the world; against them stands just John, armed only with God’s word, proclaiming a baptism for the forgiveness of sins, pointing people to the savior to come. The amazing thing is, by the time Luke’s original audience was reading and hearing these verses, none of those seven were still alive! And today these once proud and powerful men are, for most people, just a footnote in the story of Christ, the one sent to reveal the salvation of God to all flesh.

Where does that put you and me? Just like John compared to Tiberius and the rest, I suspect we can usually feel overlooked, insignificant and small surrounded by insurmountable problems, people and challenges. Maybe it’s not an Emperor that makes life miserable; maybe it’s a difficult neighbor or unhappy marriage. Maybe it’s not a Roman procurator that oppresses, but instead a struggle with addiction to alcohol, drugs or something else that has a powerful hold on your life. Maybe it’s not governors that threaten to destroy, but instead feeling lost at school or work with no real friends. Maybe it’s not rulers and priests that overwhelm, but instead struggle with depression, grief or loneliness.
Whatever it may be Luke shared the gospel promise that these things too will pass; that in the end, they will be but a distant memory; that over time they will become mere footnotes to a larger, grander and more beautiful story of acceptance, grace, mercy and life. The waiting can be hard, which is why Luke reminds his community and ours of this promise that is so easy to overlook when compared to the big challenges of life, but is big enough to save and transform us into people like John – heralds that Zechariah would sing as lovingly to as he did his own son.

On this second Sunday of Advent we are introduced once again to one of the enduring people of God’s plan to save the world, John the Baptist. Remember that it is not only John that endures, but it is every one of us; every one of us who endure (with God) the powers and forces that try to control or ruin our lives. Like the refiner’s fire and the fuller’s soap that Malachi mentioned in our first lesson, we may endure some difficult times at the hands of those powers and forces; we may even have to endure the processes of refining that is necessary because of our own sinfulness and selfishness. But God promises to be with us through it all, making us into people who prepare the way of the one is the Lord and savior of the World. May we continue during this Advent season - with John as our model – to be people who might not seem to compare to the powers and forces of the world, but who will endure in the presence of God forever. May it be so, in the name of Christ our Lord; Amen.