December 9, 2018 – Advent 2 C
1In 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, 2during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness. 3He went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, 4as 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.
5Every 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;
6and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.’ ”
If there’s something you should know about me, it’s that I’m a sucker for a good underdog story. I was raised on movies like Rudy and The Karate Kid. When I don’t know who to cheer for while watching sports, I’ll root for the team that is projected to lose (which is probably why my March Madness brackets are usually completely busted in the first week). The books I’m usually reading often feature an unlikely hero up against seemingly insurmountable odds – Frodo, Katniss, Harry Potter. I love the underdog, which is one of the reasons I appreciate John the Baptist and the gospel of Luke in particular so much.
In a world filled with rulers, governors, and high priests, the author of Luke zooms in past the mansions, cities, and armies to some little known preacher wandering in the wilderness. This tells us something very important about the way God works. It tells us that, while the world determines time and worth around wealth and power, God is caring for and using the lowly, the nameless, and the powerless to proclaim redemption and salvation. It tells us that sometimes the voices of God come not from seats of power, but in the margins. It tells us that, in the end, the ways God works is full of surprises.
John the Baptist is the son of a priest; a priest who was made silent when he questioned that God would give him this promised child. Much like Sarah and Abraham, Zechariah and Elizabeth (who wrote the song we used as the Psalm today) were well past the age of bearing children. But, in yet another display of God using the unlikely to do the unimaginable, they had a son and he would become John the Baptist.
In almost every imaginable way, he is not the one we would assume would be the preparer of the way of the Lord. He was not particularly tactful. He wasn’t spreading a message that everything was hunky-dory. He wasn’t even stationed in a big city, where a lot of people would hear his message. Instead, he was rough, not particularly well dressed, and lived in the wilderness regions around the Jordan River. Much like the Messiah he was proclaiming, he wasn’t exactly the best at public relations.
I wonder, perhaps, if that’s not the point. God is not concerned with power, with eloquence, or with education. God is not concerned with lineage or tradition. Instead, God is concerned with the valleys and mountains of human experience. God is leveling out the high ground and raising up the low. And the way God does that is through the grace which is given to all people by way of Jesus, the very flesh of God on earth.
Jesus, the child we are preparing for, will challenge many of the powerful names we read at the beginning of the gospel today. The mountains of humanity will be brought low through the humility and sacrifice of Christ. The valleys, those unnamed, possessed, sick, and hungry people Jesus would eventually encounter, would be lifted up. The self-righteous, self-important are brought low and the meek and lowly are lifted up. That’s how God works.
The grace that God gives freely to you lifts you up, even in the midst of brokenness. It levels the playing field. It declares that, even though you have sinned, that you are forgiven. Even though you have been part of divisions, you are gathered in. And nothing – not sin, not death, nothing that you can do – will separate you from that love and that grace and that mercy.
And how do we respond? How do we react to such unexpected news? We, like John, begin to prepare the way. We do that by loving, even when we don’t know how. We do that by speaking, even when we don’t know the words. We do that by showing people the grace that we have been given, even when we aren’t sure they deserve it. In baptism, you are sealed with the cross of Christ and that makes you, like John, a voice in the wilderness.
With your voice, you have the chance to speak the words that the world is craving to hear – that they are loved, that they are forgiven, and that they have a place in this kingdom. You prepare the way through your words and life. And, in your own unique ways, you are making God’s love known and God’s kingdom is coming to and through you.
I wonder, today, how this gospel would read.
In the 2nd year of the presidency of Donald Trump, when Kim Reynolds was governor of Iowa, and Steve Cooper was mayor of Osage, during the pastoral calls of Cindy and Bryan, the Word of God came to you. And you have become a voice crying out in the wilderness, “Prepare the way of the Lord, make the 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 humanity shall see the salvation of God.”
You have God’s voice. You have God’s love. You have God’s commission. You are God’s chosen. And, you, with the voices of all God’s people, have a message to proclaim. Christ is coming. The Kingdom of God is here. You are welcome. Amen.