Advent 2 Meditation: Subversive
Here’s the gospel text for this coming Sunday, December 9, the second Sunday of Advent.
“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, during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness. He went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, as 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. 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; and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.” (Luke 3: 1 – 6)
If you went to seminary you may have learned that Luke was an historian. Seminary or no, your eyes may slide over, and ears dull at the list of names and places. Not quite “the begats” of a genealogy, but close.
But wait. Wait for the pivot. The pivot away from Emperor and Governor, the pivot away from palace and temple. Here it comes.
“The word of God came to [none other than] John in the wilderness.”
Luke has set up the high and mighty like bowling pins trembling at the end of the pine lane, then threw a strike, toppling each and every one. The word of God came to none of these, but to John in the wilderness.
Not just subtly subversive — though it is that — Luke’s pivot to John, to the wilderness tells us that God’s initiatives come in unexpected places, among unlikely people. The high and mighty are generally so full of themselves that there’s little room for God.
God has a preferential option for the unlikely. And John certainly fits that bill. He remains out of place, unwelcome in our Christmas preparations and tableaux. So often, at Christmas, as other times, God breaks in when our careful plans and preparations, break down.
Note too what came to John in the wilderness: “the word of God.” In Scripture “the word of God” is not just words. It is power. It is the power, as Mary sings in Luke 1, to “bring down the powerful from their thrones and lift up the lowly.” God’s word, when faithfully proclaimed, changes things. It is the power to effect open heart surgery on you, on me. It is the power to create a new world.
In the churches today, we have a power outage. If not a black out, then a brown out. Seldom, in my experience, is the Word of God proclaimed with boldness, conviction, and confidence. To be sure, that takes courage. Luther said, “When the Word of God is alive, evil spirits are set in motion.” Proclaiming God’s word means confrontation, calling for repentance.
“Repentance” does not simply mean saying “I’m sorry” endlessly, but doing a 180, facing in a new direction entirely. It means “letting go and letting God.” It means allowing God to have God’s way with us, in our lives, in our land.
And the land. The land is transformed, according to the words of Isaiah, valleys filled, mountains leveled.Hold on: I like the hills and valleys. I love the snow-capped mountains. It’s metaphor, stupid. The point is that this repentance is not merely a private matter, but bigger, a new world, a new creation.
Think too about the impossible mountains in our lives, which takes us back to list of “the powers that be” at the beginning. Which powers loom like mountains? Which priestly cabals are as uncrossable as the river at the depth of the valley? Before what do we feel small and insignificant?
I like this from David Lose at “workingpreacher.com”
“I suspect that our people at times also 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 just a difficult colleague or unhappy marriage. Maybe it’s not a Roman procurator that oppresses, but instead a struggle with addiction to alcohol, drugs, or porn. 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 a struggle with depression, grief or loneliness.
“Whatever it maybe, Luke shares the gospel promise that these things, too, will pass; that in the end they will be but a difficult and 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 but big enough to save and audacious enough to transform.”
To the God of promise, the One whose ways are not our ways, be the glory!