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.'” [NRSV]
Prepare the way of the King: There is some confusion about who the real king is at Christmas? Is it Jesus or Santa. South Park creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker pit Jesus and Santa clause in a boxing match and the victor is Brian Boitano who instructs everyone Christmas is a time to be good to one another. Smoothies all around the cult classic born.
But we all know better? We just want our manger and our presents. I have tried to share some Advent and pre-Christmas photo posts on Facebook each day. So far the one the has drawn the greatest comment has been the most misunderstood:
Most folks have thought i was promoting this as a creative, post modern spin on the traditional nativity. (When actually I’m totally offended by the collection.) But this passage is not so much about Elvis as King or Super Hero Movie action figures holding court in a fake moss-crusted manger set. Let’s get to the juicy part. Politics and Christmas.
Politics at Christmas? Jesus comes into the world to transform all powers.
I good friend of mine shared a personal commentary this week. She observed that there were two conversations going on this week. Christmas bargains and responses to the turmoil in Ferguson. It was interested to here to two radically different conversation interwoven without clashing until she brought them together.
Who wants to talk about politics at Christmas time?
But this is the very thing that John the Baptist, John the son of Zacharia, called attention to in the introduction of Jesus’ ministry.
Luke retells of John’s ministry of Advent, preparing for Christ’s arrival, in the context of the politics of the day.
The Emperor was Tiberius, [ a soldier become leader, opposed by others, wanted to Senate to make all the decisions, married for politics and was concerned a very unhappy person and leader. ]
Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, [ primary functions were military, but as representatives of the empire they were responsible for the collection of imperial taxes, and also had limited judicial functions ]
Herod was ruler of Galilee, [ Born Arab, Became Jewish in Marriage, Gave himself the name, Herod the Great, massive building and taxes for his glory in the name of Rome. Killed many, fears everyone, 2000 body guards, pool in is house on the Med Sea. ]
Ly-sani-as ruled Abilene, [ Arab city of Damascus, in Syria, little is know, but Luke uses the regional context as inclusive of powers ]
And the high priests in Jerusalem were An-nas and Cai-aphas,
[ The Annas family ruled the temple from 3 AD to 63 AD and Caiaphas married into the family, think of the church dynasties today ]
For us, in 2014
It would be like telling the Jesus story today in the context. When Obama was president, and Deal was Governor of Georgia, Haslam was Governon or Tennessee, Paul Johnson was coach at GTech, Mark Richt was a UGA, and Mike Watson was Bishop and Herzen Andone was DS in the Northwest District.
Why would set the Spiritual story in the context of political leaders?
Because the spiritual story is unfolding now.
Because the spiritual story in a context of current realitiy
Because the spiritual story is a contrasting story to the culture in which it is revealed.
Because to NOT know the reality of the context is to ignore the role and power of the message.
A call that Challenges Authority
Think of John the Baptizers Call to the Nations: Prepare the Way of the King, the Lord, the Authority
Q: What preparations would be made if we knew the president, governor, coach, bishop or DS were coming?
A: It kind of depends on what you think of their leadership or how you respect the office.
John is calling for God’s Children to prepare for a greater Authority..
Who is our Authority?
There are many levels in many different contexts. But who is responsible for shaping our view, motives and responses to the world in which we live?
Take the injustice of racism: In my doctoral studies I attended Gammon Seminary. It is a historically Black United Methodist seminary on the Atlanta University campus. At the time I started my degree, one third of my congregation persons who were Black, African-American, culturally different from my experience. My going to school was to try to learn and better understand so I could better connect, serve and lead as their pastor. When I choose the topic of addressing racism through the repetition of worship as a white pastor, I was quickly set straight by both students and faculty that that was not possible for a “little white boy” to do. I was told that fighting racism was the job of “the black man” and the “black church.” It took me several years to find an adviser who would work with me.
The political reality of racism is a real as ever. But the current charges in the news are not based on solving the problem, instead it continues to be a struggle for power and authority. It fall right in with John the Baptist’s call for making away for a NEW AUTHORITY. One that is more than black or white or yellow or red or brown or tan. BUT TO PAVE A NEW ROAD, old ways have to be torn away. The answers to the conversation of Ferguson, MO. are not impossible, but they call for our society to look at people as people and crime as crime. Folks on both sides of the conversation are not necessarily ready to do both simultaneously.
Have yourself a politically correct happy holiday.
Again I say, we can applaud the efforts of those individual and merchants who continue to state, Merry Christmas instead of Happy Holidays, but that is only an attempt at resurfacing a road that many have given up traveling in the first place.
John Preaches Prepare the LORD’s path, the KING’s road, Christ’s Way.
From the beginning the church was known as the “Way”:
- The way to God,
- the Way to live,
- the way to follow Jesus,
- the way to heaven,
- the Way to salvation,
- the Way to life eternal
The Lord’s Way… The way God is working in the world, through the Spirit and through those who follow.
- I would make a case that it is not the government’s responsibility to feed the hungry: it is the church’s
- It is not the government’s responsibility to clothe and house the homeless, it is the church’s,
- It is not the government’s responsibility to comfort and help the widow, orphan and imprisoned, it is the church’s
- It is not the government’s responsibility to provide health care, it is the church’s
- It is not the government’s responsibility to provide moral instruction to broken families and expectant mothers, it is the church’s
This is a radical road, a difficult road, a path that has been long forgotten and forsaken…
The preparing for Christ coming is not getting our decorations, it is paving a new road, by a new authority, for a new world relationship with God.
Tell me I’m wrong and show me my miss reading and I will repent..
So you say: “Im overwhelmed.” If this is true, I don’t know where to start.
This advent we have started with the conversation of Prayer, the Study of the Word, and today we add Breaking Ground.
Isn’t it fun to break ground: to see the shovel of reality break through the dreams of hope and change.
That act is the physical and tangible involvement of putting ideas into motion.
Actively Break New Ground for Christ:
and Dig into reality.. get involved. get your hands dirty, get the sweat equity in what you believe..
If Christmas is a time for giving gifts, don’t just get a good deal, use the gift to be witness of JESUS’s love and grace.
If Christmas is a time for traditions of family and friends, use the occasions to make certain Make God known through them
If Christmas is a time for lights and songs, then make sure they clearly point to why we do and sing and remember.
The Season of Assumption is past…
We living in a time of paving, new break through of God’s authority… and we hold the shovels!
And God is coming Soon…
Advent is an annual experience of asking ourselves: If Jesus were coming in a month, what would be different about my life and faith and living… and act accordingly.