Traveling Advent to Epiphany: Roadside Assistance from Luke and Matthew
A Meditation on the Gospel for Advent Two: Luke 3:1-6
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.
You could miss it, the word of God that comes to John (the Baptist) son of Zechariah. The word is a holy revelation embedded deep within multiple layers of context—political, familial and prophetic. Before the word can come to John, evangelist Luke paints an imperial picture, calls the gubernatorial roll, measures the landscape by regional rulers, accounts for the faithful by naming their high priests, and tells us who John’s father is.
Luke wants us to know he knows who manned the land, and when. These many centuries later, you and I could be forgiven for not caring much about Luke’s antique litany of politicos. But in the very midst of the list, wedged between the once-mute Zechariah and Isaiah the herald, it comes: the word of God, to a lone mystic in no man’s land.
The terrain is wild, ungovernable and harsh. The same may be said of John, himself, far from family, palace and temple. In the wilderness, beyond the reach of patrilineal clan and provincial bigshots, John can finally hear himself pray.
The voice that speaks is not his own.
Linger right here, in the Judean badlands, before John embarks on his historic Jordan River-region hortatory tour. Ask yourself: To whose voice, by the way, have I been listening?
If you could pull off the road for a time, take a breather on the shoulder and stare at an unobstructed horizon, would you bother? Would you dare? If there were an empty space for you akin to John’s wilderness, severe and unpeopled, just plain, would you take a detour to get there? And power off all your devices?
After Luke drops the requisite names, John recapitulates Isaiah’s summons (as it is written in the book of the words of the prophet). Isaiah’s ancient bellow still packs power to hush our mouths and raze our big ideas: 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.”
All flesh includes the rough and crooked likes of you and me. When I’m finished with these words, I had better take Isaiah’s to heart, and practice, not merely preach, his message. My task and yours this Advent is to let a single voice, not our own, have its fierce, clarion say. It speaks to us as it penetrates all flesh, all ears. Our discipline this season—harder than it sounds— is to listen, our proud fortifications laid waste, our unprotected selves exposed and receptive.
What will it mean this Advent for our highs to be lowered, our depths raised up, our edges sanded smooth? What will we lose when the promised Lord saves us? We are sure to be amended and mended. The question is: will we run toward or away from the change? Will we collaborate in our transformation by choice, as John would have us do? Or, by God, will we have to be pursued and overtaken, wiped-out and road-rashed out of our old skin and into a raw, renovated life? Either way, one day, we will surely be made new.
This day, the Lord’s way is ours to prepare, the Lord’s paths ours to clear. Turn down the talk radio. Attune yourself to greater news. God’s word—of amnesty and deliverance for all flesh—is not only John’s to hear. How will you, how will I, answer its announcer?