December 6, 2015 Click on the left end of the black bar to play/pause
December 6, 2015
Gospel: Luke 3:1-6
Fr. George Smiga
All four of the gospels mention John the Baptist, but only Luke situates him in the political context of his time. We see Luke doing this at the beginning of today’s gospel. He mentions important political figures of the first century: Tiberius who was the Emperor of Rome, Herod who was son of Herod the Great, his brother Philip who ruled the region northeast of Galilee. To Luke’s original hearers these political figures would be as easily recognized as Barack Obama, Vladimir Putin, and Bashar al-Assad are to us today. Luke mentions them because he wants to make it clear that the message of John the Baptist was meant to impact them. You see when John the Baptist cries out, “Prepare the way of the Lord,” he not seeking to prepare the way of the Lord into heaven, or even prepare the way of the Lord into our hearts, he is announcing the way of the Lord into the complex, corrupt, and violent world in which we live.
The message of John the Baptist (and by the way the message of Christianity) is that God is coming. God is coming into this world to change things, to clean up the mess of this world. John’s language about making winding ways straight and rough ways smooth is his way of saying that God is coming to unravel all that is corrupt and unjust in this world. God intends to eliminate poverty, violence, war, hatred, and greed. God is coming to set things right, so that this world will not be Rome’s kingdom or America’s kingdom or Russia’s kingdom, but the kingdom of God.
Today the gospel challenges us to accept John’s message. But this is not easy. Once we realize that his message applies to the political structures of our world, the stakes of believing are heightened. When we look at acts of terrorism in Paris and San Bernardino, when we look at the dysfunction of Washington, the pollution of our earth and thousands of refugees fleeing Syria, it seems that it is more logical to conclude that, far from coming, God is staying away. But faith calls us to believe that John’s message is true, that God is still coming into the broken world in which we live. Such a conviction marks the difference between believers and unbelievers. All people of good will want a better world, a world that is peaceful and just. But believers trust that peace and justice can be established in our world, not simply through the efforts of John Kerry, Angela Merkel, and Pope Francis, but through the presence and power of God working around them and through them to bring about God’s kingdom.
So the next time you become despondent because of all that is wrong in our world, the next time you become frightened by the presence of terrorism on our soil, the next time it seems hopeless that this world will ever be free of hatred and greed, John the Baptist tells us to believe that God is not indifferent to this world and that God still intends to change what is wrong.
Of course, many people in our world would see such a belief as pious nonsense. It certainly would have seemed that way to the Emperor Tiberius, if someone had reported to him that there was a wild Jewish prophet proclaiming the coming of God in the Judean wilderness. But today only a handful of people remember who Tiberius was and millions and millions of Christians gather as we do today to again hear the preaching of John. Let us stand with them in faith and believe that John’s message is true. Let us believe that even as we work for peace and justice, we are not alone. God is active. God still intends to come.