In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
John the refined Theologian. Mark the punctuated Preacher. Matthew the Jewish Scribe. And Luke, the salvation Historian. If we can take a summation of the flavor of each of the four gospels and ascribe it to their traditional namesake, then we would get something of what I’ve just done. John’s gospel is filled with layer upon layer of rich and delicate meaning and nuance. His is the oldest and thus like a fine rare wine it is complex and full bodied, never ending in theological depth and wisdom. Mark on the other is youngest of all. Quick-fire and a straight shooter. He preaches the Good news and that’s about it. Little narrative detail, so he can spend most of his time talking about Jesus’ passion. Matthew is apologetic in nature, spending his pages pointing to the Jewishness of Jesus and of His fulfillment as the Jewish Messiah. He speaks in ,Jewish terms and is giving the Christians defense against Jewish critique of their faith in Jesus.
Luke then, as he himself attests, is the historian of the group. We hear that at the beginning of his gospel as he dedicates his two-volume work (Luke-Acts) to his benefactor, Theophilus the Greek. It seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus. And we see it again in this morning’s Gospel lesson. In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, Pontius Pilate being governor of Judea, and Herod being Tetrarch of Galilee, and his brother Philip tetrarch of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitits, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene, during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas. This listing out of both civil and religious powers sets the historical landscape from which Luke will carry out the rest of his story. Here characters that will pop up again later are first introduced. For now they are simply a list, but will later emerge as the historical rampart against which Luke’s protagonist and his forerunner will later engage and conflict. But that is later, now they are only a temporal setting for Luke’s profound revelation. In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius, et al...the word of God came to John the son of Zechariah in the wilderness.
For four hundred years God had withheld His word. There was no prophet in Israel and there hadn’t been since Malachi. Until now the Lord had been profoundly and utterly silent. But He has once more stirred and spoken, calling forth a prophet. A final prophet to herald the kingdom of His Son. And the unity between this new prophet John and the prophets of old is two-fold; 1) This Word of God comes to them, that phrase is used verbatim in Jeremiah and 2) it changes and transforms them to bear the message to Israel. For John it drives him to the wilderness. To stand outside the comforts of the Holy City, away from the temple, and in almost a backward Exodus leave the promised land to return to the place of tempest and chaos. Yet because his message is unique it demands a unique place from which to be spoken. The place where the Old Covenant was fulfilled now becomes the place from which the New Covenant will be announced by John. Preparing the way of the Lord, making his paths straight, so that all flesh might know and see the coming salvation of God. Repent and be baptized for the Mighty One of God is coming and he is here, cries John.
And now in the 4th year of the reign of Barak, John being Speaker of the House, Joe ruling as President of the Senate, and Terry Governor of the State of Iowa (again), the same Word of God that came to John now comes to us, to you and I. Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight, for the Mighty One, Christ Jesus our Lord is coming. This is the purpose and great joy of Advent, the return of Jesus. In this the Church takes up the prophet John’s role. It is she who now calls all who will listen to her to make ready the Lord’s way. Making the mission and ministry of John ours. You and I are called, and let us be absolutely clear about this it is to continue well past the season of Advent, indeed each and every day of our lives, to prepare the Lord’s way, both in our selves and our own life and then extending that towards all whom we encounter and meet. But it must first begin in the interior life of every person, every one of us who have been called and marked by the cross in Baptism. The call to repentance is never first spoken to the world. It is first spoken to us, each of us. For how can we help prepare the way for someone else to receive the Lord, if we ourselves have not been made straight and leveled by confession and repentance.
As the Word of God came and moved him to carry out his most holy assignment, so to does that same Word of God come to us moving and transforming us for our holy task by first drawing us into a life of repentance and preparing our own lives to receive Christ in Word and Sacrament so that at the last we may receive Him when He comes again in glory. Indeed this is essential to our keeping of this Advent season and partly why the original color of the season was purple not blue as a mirror to that of Lent. We are called in this time and this space to spend time examining our own hearts and lives. To dig anew into our souls and spend some time in the mirror, not admiring how good we look in our Christmas sweaters or reminding ourselves the weight we put on since Thanksgiving, but looking at who we are as a person. What valleys in our life need to be filled and what rough places need be leveled. Am I and is my life a highway for the Lord? Thus Advent asks of us a most simple question are we sincere in our prayer, “Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.”
And the whole of this spiritual discipline of Advent, examining our consciences, leads us to the recognition that we too like John’s first hearers need that work of repentance done in us. To turn back from the life of the flesh which seeks nothing more than our death and towards the life of the Spirit which seeks nothing but giving us Christ, to give us the vision of our salvation in the broken body and spilt blood of our Lord. To make us ready for our Lord because He is coming. Indeed He is already here! And He comes to us face to face in the Eucharistic meal. Are we prepared to meet your Lord? Or rather the question is better put, can we see Him? For the Lord has drawn near to us as He has promised to do, therefore let us in this season of preparation draw nearer to Him, in faith, love and adoration of His all holy Name.