Second Sunday of ADVENT– Luke 3:1-6 December 9, 2012 Rev. Emmett H. Carroll, S.J.
Second Sunday of ADVENT– Luke 3:1-6
December 9, 2012
Rev. Emmett H. Carroll, S.J.
In 1898, Jerusalem prepared for a great event. Important roads were paved; water and electricity came to new portions of that old city. Under Turkish administration, Palestine wanted to favorably impress Germany and its leader. In Jerusalem, the planners expanded the Jaffa Gate; the City walls gave space to the Kaiser’s carriage.
Preparatory people regularly preceded the candidates for presidency of our nation. Both Romney and Obama employed advance people to select a site, to draw a crowd, to arrange for television, to arrange heat and light, and a proper sound system, and parking and one thousand other details for the coming of the candidate.
The coming of John the Baptist occurs at the time of important administrators: Tiberius Caesar rules in his fifteenth year, and Pontius Pilate is governor of Judea, and Herod is tetrarch of Galilee, and Philip is tetrarch of Ituraea and of Trachonitis, and Lysanias is tetrarch of Abilene, while Annas and Caiaphas are high priests. These named people rule at the time when the word of God excites the Baptist to begin his crusade and to rouse the populace in advance of the Messiah who will visit His people. The Baptist will preach in this era.
Jesus Christ has His advance man, John the Baptist. Unlikely as it sounds, God so stirs the soul of this young man that something in scripture has excited him. In general, the populace of Palestine expects the Messiah. He would come to Israel, for the covenant establishes a people and a union between them and Yahweh. Feeling the excitement in scripture, John goes throughout the whole region of the Jordan River, and he proclaims that people ought to realize that the kingdom of God is upon them.
John the Baptist, son of aged parents Zechariah and Elizabeth, whose birth was heralded by an announcement of the angel Gabriel, and whose name of John was given in the angel’s announcement—this man lives ascetically from an early age in the desert. He dresses like a prophet; today we would refer to him as a hippie; in his own day people think his clothes resemble those of Elijah. The winding passages of rock and the caves of this tortuous region are John’s shelter. His clothing is made of that rough camel skin from which the nomads make their tents, and he wears a simple strip of leather. He feeds on the honey that wild bees store in the crevices of the rocks, and on the locusts of the region. This is the person whom God has called to prepare people for the coming of the Messiah.
The Baptist appears preaching in the last months of the year 779 Ab Urbe Condita, that would be about the year 26 by our calendar. Because Israel celebrated a sabbatical year when no farmer prepared a crop, people had leisure to go out to the wilderness to hear the Precursor of Jesus.
John urged two rites that would religiously prepare people. In the first place, a person should be washed in the Jordan River, and this would purify a person, signaling a change in life. This person, secondly, ought confess himself a sinner and realize a cleaner way of living. I watched a baptism in the cold water of this river. The pastor and the neophyte, both dressed in a long white garment, waded into a deep spot, and the pastor placed his hand on the woman’s head as she dunked beneath the surface three times. People of the same evangelical United States church sang a baptismal hymn. The woman emerged to change in a nearby building; she was shivering as she passed me. The Baptist would not have had the sacrament, but he would have ceremoniously and religiously washed the person who would also admit to being a sinner.
Some people came from Jerusalem, not for religious renewal, but they came to spy on John the Baptist. These Pharisees and Sadducees arrived in a spirit of hypocrisy and the Baptist attacks them with the harshness that Jesus will later use.
“You brood of vipers!” the Baptist snarls at them. “Who has given you the secret of escaping the wrath which is ready to fall upon you? Bring forth worthy fruit of repentance and say not: ‘We have Abraham for our father…. The axe is already laid to the root of the trees; every barren tree is to be cut down and cast into the fire” (Luke 3:7-9).
The viper is characterized by venom and winding coils. In Palestine, trees are cultivated for their fruit; an unproductive olive or fig tree is cut down and used for firewood.
John the Baptist calls out the proud and the hypocritical. Toward the upright and docile, John urges: “If you have two tunics, give one to the poor man who has none” (Luke 3:10-11). John tells the toll takers that they should exact only the stipulated taxes. And soldiers should not harass people; they ought be content with their pay (Luke 3:12-15).
John the Baptist heralds the coming of the Messiah. As in the gospel, he speaks to our conscience, to you and to me.
“Prepare the way of the Lord,
Make straight his paths.
Every valley shall be filled
And every mountain and hill shall be made low….
And all flesh shall see the salvation of God.”
John the Baptist recognizes the Messiah and tells his disciples to follow Jesus (John 1:35-37). Some years ago I recognized a ten dollar bill as a counterfeit. It was immediately obvious; I saw it quickly. Would I be so quick—John the Baptist was—to recognize Jesus beckoning me? In this Advent, we prepare to recognize the way of the Lord. Amen.