December 10, 2012

Advent Wk. 2 - Expecting the Unexpected (un)King


2nd Week of Advent | Luke 3:1-6

"But I won't sit idly by. I'm planning a big surprise." – from "Waiting Room" by Fugazi on 13 songs

Imagine living in first century Palestine. Imagine hearing the words said in this week’s Gospel passage.  “In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar...”

There was so much more being said than just the words we read on the page. These words meant particular things to the people hearing them. They would have “heard” things that we may lose with the distance of time. To a Jewish person living at the time it might have sounded something like this:

“In the year of the foreign occupier king, who has currently been in power for at least 15 years, who has installed local authority that does represent us or share our heritage... There was this preacher’s kid living in the boondocks. And God chose to talk to him. This preacher’s kid."

Not the emperor. Not his minions. Not even the religious elites.

Not even the preacher.

It’s his kid. A weirdo. Living in the sticks. That’s who God talks to.

And this kid, he goes around the region, initiating people–that’s what baptism is–into a new way of thinking–that’s what “repentance” means–as a symbol of leaving behind their previous ways... There’s something utterly subversive about this passage that we might completely miss in our Christmas rush. Yet, this is quite a radical introduction. And we haven’t even got to the good stuff yet!

Why is this kid, this John the Baptizer, assuming such influence when he stands so far outside the power structure? Why is he doing this stuff?!

We read further and the Gospel passage says he’s up to this holy mischief because of something written in the book of Isaiah. Every good Jewish person would have known something about Isaiah. He told God’s people about what should be. About the world as God intended it. But it seemed that the dreams of Isaiah–and Israel–never quite came true. Wishful thinking. Hope, beyond hope. Images of a longing yet to be fulfilled. This particular passage, from the prophet is what animates this wild man from the countryside.

“Someone. Out in the middle of nowhere will holler at you this: Get ready. And everybody move out of the way. The Lord is coming.” Wait! Stop right there. Only Ceasar gets called, “Lord.” You could get arrested–killed–for calling anyone else “Lord.” But this guy isn’t talking about Caesar, is he?

“Prepare the way of the Lord…" Why? Because every canyon will be infilled and every hilltop leveled, crooked paths made straight, rough paths made smooth… This is road construction! Every Israelite would have know about this kind of stuff in first century Palestine. One of the great Roman Empire achievements was their highway system. They built roads that allowed their military easier access from one region to another. Commerce and trade routes were improved because of them. God wasn’t telling Israel that this foreign occupier was its savior, was he? 

Was God going to use empires to tell his story, to announce his kingdom?

Certainly. Just not the way you might expect.

Was God going to finally announce his kingdom, his effective rule and reign?

Certainly. Just not the way you might expect.

Was God going to work intimately with individuals?

Certainly. Just not the way you might expect.

Advent is a time of waiting–of anticipation. But what are we waiting for? We await our (un)King. For even as he who came announcing his arrival was so uncommon–so unexpected, Jesus would be a king unlike any other in all but name. This is the king we are waiting to arrive and bring with him a new way. Prepare the way.

How do we prepare for the arrival of this (un)King?

Expect the unexpected.

Wait for God in the ordinary and outlandish. Those places in your life that you just don’t expect God to show up. Expect God to show up.

Rather than looking for God in the magisterial, the powerful, the prestigious, we look for him in the simple things. And maybe we can individually prepare for our (un)King not in our accomplishments and titles. Maybe God is more interested in something more primal about you.

How will you prepare this Advent?

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