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, 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 region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, 4 as 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. 5 Every 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; 6 and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.’ “
Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
One thing most all of us have in common, I think, is that we all want to make a difference. We all want to believe we are valued and that what we have to contribute to the world around us is worthwhile.
Which is one reason why we seek some sense of power and influence. Because it’s from those positions that we can have an impact. When we have some authority we can more quickly make changes that we believe will improve things. Sometimes that influence is abused and is used for selfish purposes, but often the intention is good. Make a difference, be the change, improve the world. If you’re not recognized as influential, no one will ever know whether or not what you can contribute would be helpful.
We’ve got in this text a whole line-up of power players. Luke lists a virtual “Who’s who” of authorities and big-time players. Emperors, governors, rulers of various regions, and high priests. Political and religious influencers. Everyone who can have an impact on the world around them is listed.
And then comes John the Baptist. This guy who’s living out in the desert, wearing camel’s hair and eating bugs. Pretty significant contrast between the Emperor of the most powerful nation the world had ever known and this “possibly” sane man screaming quotes from old-time prophets out in the wilderness.
And yet, Luke makes clear, when a word of hope is needed in the world, God sent it through wilderness-John, the bug-eater. And I think we would all say that if there’s any hope for the world at all, God would certainly be at the top of the list of providers. And bug-eater John is who and how God brings a word of hope into the world.
One of the things I learned on my “Listening Tour” sabbatical is how lots of people view the church. The church is seen by many (both inside and outside the church) as similar to John the Baptist. Maybe the church used to be influential, but now it’s just kind of quaint. A group of kind of naïve do-gooders who are just a bit out of touch. The church would be a good place, perhaps, to bring your kids so they can learn how to be nice and moral citizens. But not much more. If you are looking for charity, go to the church. But if you’re looking to change the world, you gotta go to the power-players, the influential folks. Go to the people and the institutions that give you the best hope of making a difference. That is not perceived as the church.
And yet, when a word of hope is needed in the world, God has sent it through the church. I think the more the world looks to power for hope, the more important the message of hope from the church becomes. What so many people consider to be the least likely source of life-changing hope becomes an instrument used by God for that very purpose.
Advent is all about hope, and how God reveals it.
Today, Daniel P, from our council’s vision team, will share experiences of God hope revealed in this church.
Next week, Venessa V will share how God’s hope is revealed in our neighborhood.
And two weeks from now, our Bishop, Jim Gonia, will talk about God’s hope being revealed in our world.
Advent is the season of hope. It’s all about hope. And God’s hope is sometimes revealed in the least likely ways through the least likely people. Blessed Advent. May it be filled with renewed hope for you.