This week’s Gospel comes from chapter three of Luke (3:1-6). The first four lines of this short text situates John the Baptist’s ministry in the period of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, with Pontius Pilate governor of Judea and Herod, Tetrarch of Galilee. The text spends many verses naming and situating the leaders of the day, both civil and ecclesial. It was during the pontificate of Annas and Caiaphas, we are told. And at the end of this illustrious list or rulers Luke tells us, the word of God came to John, son of Zechariah, in the wilderness. The first readers of this text must have stopped in their tracks. ‘Who?’ They would have asked. ‘Where?’ They would have mused. We know Pilate and Herod and Caiaphas, but who is John? Why would the word of God, the one who sits above all and to whom all are accountable, not go to the important leaders in the important places? Who is this John and what is he doing in the wilderness? How could it be that an unknown person in an unknown place is the recipient of the Word of God? And yet this is the very point of Luke’s text. From the outset Luke wants to tell us that the God who is revealed in Jesus Christ is not going to work in conventional ways with conventional people.
The unconventional nature of the workings of God do not stop with John in the wilderness. John’s message is that the Lord will come and he will ‘fill in the valleys’ and ‘lay low the hills’, he will straighten the windy roads and and make the rough ones smooth. These are extraordinary claims.
The Advent texts are full of this kind of extraordinary imagery. They want us to know that we can expect the unexpected in God. They want us to know that God has not finished God’s work of creation. There are new things to be done.
So in Advent we should have great expectations. We should expect that God will come to us and remove those metaphorical mountains that get in the way of our really living and being fully human. We should expect that God will come to us and fill in the metaphorical valleys that represent that places where we fall over, or the things that habitually trip us up and stop us from living and bringing about the dream of God for all humanity.
Advent is a gift to us each year. It is the time when we call on God with joyful hope. And just as he arrived in the wilderness to the unknown John, so too we can expect that he will come to us in our wilderness, in our lonely place, and bring his transforming word. For our part we are called to be awake, to stay alert, to be ready to hear that word.
Why not find five minutes each day of Advent to just sit still and wait. Pray: Come Lord Jesus.
The Lord will not disappoint you.
By Fr Brendan Reed