The opening words of our Gospel for Sunday give us on the one hand the authority of this world (vs 1: "Fifteenth year of the reign of the Emperor Tiberius") and on the other hand a new authority (vs 2: "the word of God came"). This new authority is one inaugurated in very real time and is measured by grace and not power. It is a time of renewed salvation history deeply linked to the past and intimately connected with readers, and our own, present.
Who cannot relate to the feeling of "wilderness." While we might know of John's possible connection to Qumran and other wilderness communities it is not this that connects us but rather the feeling of being followers of Jesus in a strange land with competing stories about the nature and values of culture. We relate to the ancient Hebrews in Israel, we relate to the occupied Israelites of Jesus' own time. We relate because we too struggle with a captivity which is hallmarked by consumerism and debt and recession; not to mention the stress and strains of family and relationships. The world is a wild place and we find our home in it as foreigners in a strange land, longing for the Kingdom of God present, and not yet fully realized. We long in that wilderness to hear the voice crying out.
We as Christians understand John the Baptist as the agent to fulfill the ancient prophesies: Isaiah 40:3; Malachi 3:1; 4:5 (“Lo, I will send you the prophet Elijah before the great and terrible day of the LORD comes”).
Baptism we are shown in Luke's Gospel is at once seen as the ancient and present way of deliverance and entrance into the kingdom of grace with a prophet king named Jesus. To the Jews of the time and to Luke's reader John is proclaiming and acting out a preparation for the coming of Jesus. It s a proclamation being made to the whole world a proclamation we know as the Gospel.
I will be thinking this week of how the time and the season of Advent offer us a time to connect with the real world wilderness of the people in and outside of our congregations. How do we as people already baptized, already living within a kingdom without walls, take a Gospel of grace into the world around us, proclaiming Jesus and proclaiming the opportunity of hope and joy and transformation that awaits those who choose to follow him and work under his Lordship? What are the real world differences we as Christians can make?
Last night a friend reminded me of Jackson Browne's song Rebel Jesus. Find it on YouTube here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OxDwy8JkFFI&feature=fvw That has me thinking of the challenge we face. It has me thinking of how the mission field can really challenge us to be better at our work as a church.
As Mary pondered these things, the season of Advent is a season of pondering. So, I am pondering and hope you will join me in that corporate work of prayer, discernment, preparation, and pondering.