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Sermon for Advent 2 Year C John the Baptist

November 18, 2015

Luke's bigwigs

In the 63rd year of the reign of Queen Elizabeth II, when Barak Obama was President of the United States and David Cameron was Prime Minister of the UK, during the Archepiscopacy of Justin Welby in Canterbury the word of God came to…to whom?

“Now in the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, Pontius Pilate being governor of Judea, and Herod being tetrarch of Galilee, and his brother Philip tetrarch of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene, in the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas….”

On the sentence rolls, and still it is not complete. Luke tells us who the big boys were in that time and in those places. But then he surprises us. Here is the rest of his sentence: “…the word of God came to John, the son of Zacharias, in the wilderness.”

Luke the evangelist tells us who God’s Word comes to on this occasion, and who God’s Word does not come to.

Luke begins with a list of the terrible enemies of the gospel that held absolute power at the time. It’s as if he’s saying: It was the worst of times—at the height of the Roman Empire’s power. While a cruel Roman Procurator holds the persecuted people of Israel under the iron fist of Rome. With godless puppet kings like Herod, Philip and Lysanius on the the thrones and David’s country divided among them. With cold hearted Annas and Caiaphas running the temple in Jerusalem. In the midst of this hopeless and crushingly oppressive climate, God hadn’t forgotten his people.

In the midst of this terrible time when those who loved God were totally without power and without any advocate, God sent them a prophet. God sent them a man without fear to reveal his plan for hope and salvation. God sent his beloved people the most unlikely of persons: a strange and brash itinerant preacher who captivated them with his shameless calls to holiness and his spine-tingling promise that the Kingdom of hope and love was about to begin.

So Luke begins his story by making the outrageous claim that God is at work in the weak and small: babies and barren women; unwed teenage mothers and wild-eyed prophets; itinerant preachers and executed criminals: to change the world.

And God’s not finished yet. God continues to work through unlikely characters today: unpopular teens and out-of-work adults; corporate executives and stay-at-home parents; underpaid secretaries and night-shift workers; police officers and even burned out preachers to announce the news of God’s redemption.

It’s a promise that’s easy to miss, but when we hear it and when we see it taking place in our own lives it changes us along with the world.

The Word of God does not come to any of the people you would have expected.  Not the high priests, who alone can enter the Holy of Holies. Not the bigwig governors and the power politicians. Not even the Roman emperor, who exercises life-and-death power over millions. Not to the holy city Jerusalem, site of the Temple. Not to a provincial capital, or even to imperial Rome, mistress of the world.

The priest in his temple, the governor in his palace, the emperor in the heart of imperial Rome: each one thought he was the centre of his own little world.

The Word of God almighty does not hit a bull’s-eye. It doesn’t land at the centre, where you’d expect it to. Rather it comes to this one guy in the desert, a badly dressed ranter who doesn’t know when to pipe down and play the game.

Come to think of it, in the six decades I have been alive, the word of God has come to me through the people whom history would not remember, and whom editors would deem to be “not newsworthy”. Grandmothers and God mothers, friends and family, workers and wild people. People like John. Wilderness voices.  They receive the truth of God and transmit it.

So instead of expecting the word of God to come on BBC or even in church, this advent I am going to attend to the little people in the daily encounters and conversations.

To attend to those voices who echo John’s message: that every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall be made straight, the end of all that is hopeless and oppressive, liberation on all sides: justice and restoration for victims, transformation and rectification for perpetrators; freedom for all…

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