“And the Word Came”
Did you notice how our text starts out today? It reads like a who’s who in government and the powers that be of that time. It is a bit of a history lesson if one likes history:
- Son of Tiberias Claudius Nero.
- Stepson of Augustus Caesar from whom he assumed the throne in 14 AD.
- Noted for a vicious reign.
- He came to be remembered as a dark, reclusive and somber ruler who never really wanted to be emperor; Pliny the Elder called him “the gloomiest of men.” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tiberius)
- He died in 37 AD.
- Roman Governor during the ministry of John the Baptist, and Jesus.
- He ruled over the crucifixion of Jesus and served as governor until 36 AD.
- After which he was accused of crimes while in office, and banished to Vienne in Gaul, where according to tradition he committed suicide as ordered by the Emperor Caligula.
Herod, tetrarch of Galilee
- Also known as Herod Antipas, son of Herod the Great. Herod the Great divided his kingdom up between four of his sons.
- Herod Antipas ruled until 39 AD.
- He was a builder, like his father
- Also, he is known for marrying his brother’s wife, Herodias who also was his niece, beheading John the Baptist, and being involved in Jesus’ trial.
- Also called Herod Philip II
- Brother of Herod Antipas
- He ruled the northeast province from 4 BC until his death in 34 AD
Lysanias –Not too much is known about him other than that he ruled.
- Who was High Priest 7-14 AD.
- He was disposed of this position by Rome, but according to Jewish Law the position of High Priest was held for life, therefore Luke mentions both men as being high priest
- He married Annas’ daughter and was appointed as High Priest from 18-36 AD.
- He was likely sympathetic to the Sadducees
- Generally favored by roman authorities, and served longer as high priest than the others
- And gave his opinion that Jesus must be put to death.
I hope you don’t mind the history lesson. All these people were the great rulers of Jesus times. They were the ones who were making history. They lived while enjoying and exploiting the peace of Roman established by Caesar Augustus. They commanded armies, controlled vast amounts of wealth, and ruled over the known civilized world at their time. There decisions affected the lives of thousands of people. They exalted some and put many to death.
In the midst of these powerful men, we read that the word of God came to John the son of Zechariah. Do you notice that? I can think of a couple of reasons why Luke went to the trouble of listing these rulers: 1. To ground the event of John and Jesus ministry in real historic time. 2. Perhaps it is Luke’s way of reminding his readers that during the great political movements and leaders at that time, a new kingdom came into being upon our world and within are lives –that being the Kingdom of God.
There is a contrast between the usual sources of power and knowledge, and the way God was and is at work. God’s word did not come through a king or a bishop, but rather God spoke to and through John. A rather peculiar individual who lived in the wilderness, eating locust and wild honey, and dressed in coat made of camel’s hair. John whose description reminds us of Elijah. John who identifies himself as “The voice of one crying in the wilderness, `Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.”
In ancient days as a king would approach, he would send out a herald to proclaim his approach. The people of the area would go out and smooth out the roads -fill in the holes and flatten the hills, so that the king’s arrival was smoother. John now takes on this rule for the arrival of the Christ. Are we listening? Are we ready to listen?
When we really think about it, it is human nature and usually common sense that causes us to listen for the voices of authority and expertise. We want to hear what our bishop has to say, our president, or maybe Dr. Fauci? These are the voices that we hear on the news today. These are the voices of authority and expertise, and yet this was not the type of voice that God chose to speak to the people. God chose John, and John wasn’t too interested in the country’s infrastructure. Rather John strove to prepare people’s hearts and souls for this is where God’s presence was to arrive and stay. Still even today all the great leaders of our age may not give us the information that we need to truly know, but John has a word for us if we are seeking to make our lives ready to receive the Christ.
The first thing John calls us to is REPENTANCE. Luke tells us that John came preaching a message of repentance. Give that some thought.
How else would one prepare for the coming of the Son of God? An act of congress will not do it. The Bible tells us that God is holy, holy, holy! When the biblical writers want to add emphasis, they use repetition. God is holy, holy, holy! He is a God of righteousness and justice. How else could unholy people such as you and I receive Christ unless we repent? C. S. Lewis once put it like this: “Christianity has no message for those who do not realize they are sinners.” If we are going to be prepared for Christ coming, than we must deal with our own unrighteousness before God.
That is a side to Christmas that the world usually does not want to think about or deal with. Often, Christmas is thought of like a Hallmark movie. Christmas shows will extract the light fluffy, feel-good images and ideas out of Christmas, but they do not usually delve into the deeper meaning of the Christmas event. Christmas means that God has invaded our world to redeem us and make us whole.
This past week we have heard of another school shooting. This time in Oxford, Michigan. It is a great puzzle why young people seek to destroy their own lives and randomly harm or kill the lives of others. Something is broken within. Something is disconnected and no longer working. I tell you these are the things that Christ came to fix and still wishes to change today. Christmas is not just about the feel-good stuff of life, but it was meant to address the need of people who are broken and lost. So, the first thing we are to do is to turn our lives toward God. John calls us to expect a change. God calls us to wait upon the difference that God will make. This is repentance. Where ever you are at the invitation to stop and turn your life toward God is given. In that moment there is the power to change our course and b the ability to live a hope filled life. This comes not through our own power, but through God’s power as we prayer and ask God for help.
And the second step is that repentance should lead us to righteous living. Now, you might say that is redundant. Repentance involves a commitment to righteous living. This is true, but it is worth emphasizing that as God honors our effort in turning to him, we need to follow through with our choice to live differently. Repentance is about turning to God and then walking with God.
C. S. Lewis once wrote in his book Mere Christianity: “Good and evil both increase at compound interest. That is why the little decisions you and I make everyday are of such infinite importance. The smallest good act today is the capture of a strategic point from which, a few months later, you may be able to go on to victories you never dreamed of. An apparently trivial indulgence in lust or in anger today is the loss of a ridge or railway line or bridgehead from which the enemy may launch an attack otherwise impossible.”
Repentance needs to lead us to a complete change of heart, a change in outlook, and a change in living. For God is not our enemy, but rather the one who wish to walk with us in this life.
Finally, we must remember that all we do is by the power of God’s grace. There is a story about St. Jerome, a Roman Catholic scholar who translated the Bible from Greek to Latin. Near the end of his life, Jerome was living near Bethlehem translating some of the Bible when he had a dream. In the dream, the Christ child appeared to him. He was so overwhelmed by the appearance of the Christ child that he felt he had to give Him something. So, he got some money and offered it, saying, “Here! This is yours.” The Christ child said, “I don’t want it.” Jerome brought some more possessions. The Christ child said, “I don’t want them either.” Jerome said, “If there is anything in the world that I can give you, tell me what it is. Tell me! What do you want? What do you want me to give you?” He said he dreamed that the Christ child looked at him and said this: “Give me your sin! That’s what I came for.”
Christ came to heal what is broken, to mend the connections with God that have been severed and to transmit the message of eternal hope to troubled world. This is Christmas. This is the kingdom of God –That which is greater and more lasting than all that came before it. Are you ready to hear the word from God that has come? Then, prepare ye the way of the Lord, for the salvation we hoped for is at hand. Amen.