December 7, 2009

advent: second sunday reflection

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Anticipating the arrival of the (un)King
This is my second in a series of Advent reflections this year. You can read the first one, along with some notes, here.

Second Sunday of Advent ??? 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. He went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, as 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.
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.'"

For Reflection

In first century Palestine, I???m pretty sure that hearing or reading this passage would bring Rome???s highway system to mind. The Roman empire is credited for it???s roads. It???s system of highways spanned across the empire. These road systems impacted everyone. It made goods and services more easily accessible. It exposed different cultures to each other. It gave Rome???s military force quick access to it???s many territories.

Could it be that God???s liberation was coming in the form of empire?

But those hearing or reading this passage in first century Palestine would also have remembered the prayers of their ancestors as well: that God would provide a clear and quick path for those dispersed among other nations to come home.

Was God going to free Israel from occupation; establish a self-governing Israel?

Still, others may have seen John???s (referenced above) ministry???calling people to change their thinking and living, to initiation into another way of life (personal repentance and baptism). For those people, maybe they heard this passage in a much more personal way.

If I don't ???clean up my act??? will I be excluded from God???s plan?

Jesus??? entire life would be a confrontation with empire. Even as an infant, authorities tried to hunt him down. And his closest friends grew perturbed when it became clear that Jesus wasn???t going to establish a free Israel. So, it seems unlikely that the first two questions were what John the Baptist intended. Yet, I doubt the third is wholly accurate either. Jesus frequently associated with people that neither lived the right way or believed the right things.

The passage makes clear that liberation is coming. But do we know how to look for it? Am I the type of person that is so concerned with myself that I miss the kind of crowd Jesus??? is inviting into this liberation? Or am I the type of person that gets so swept up in the agenda of 'my people' that I miss the bigger picture? Or can I be so enamored with the advances of empires (whether commercial, political or digital) that I just don???t notice that something grander might be happening?

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