Sermon II Advent Yr C

2 Advent Yr C, 6/12/2009

Lk 3:1-6

Rev. Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson

Pastor of Grace Lutheran Church, &

Chaplain of The Good Samaritan Society’s

South Ridge Village, Medicine Hat, Alberta

“Make the Lord’s paths straight”


Recently, someone sent me an e-mail with the following story: A man was repainting the outside of the church one Saturday to get it nice and spiffy for the service on Sunday. He had two sides of the church done, when he realized that he didn’t have enough paint left to finish the job. What to do, since he was a long way from any store where he could buy more paint, and he was running out of time? So he came up with the idea that he would thin the paint down so he’d have enough to finish painting. After finishing the third side, he realized that he needed to thin the paint even more if he was going to finish the job. Finally, he finished the job and stood back admiring his work when suddenly, it began to rain. The man watched in dismay as the paint ran off the last two sides he had painted.

   The pastor came outside to see what was going on, and saw the look of disappointment on the man’s face. The man confessed what he had done in order to finish the job. The pastor, wanting to ease the man’s burden, said, “Repaint and thin no more!”

   In today’s gospel we learn of that eccentric desert prophet, John the Baptist, who preached a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, in preparation for the coming Messiah. It is rather interesting how Luke begins this story. He starts out by giving us a list of “the Who’s Who” of John’s day. He names several of the political and religious “movers and shakers,” the “power brokers” of that time in history.

   Luke tells us that: “In the fifteenth year of the reign of Emperor Tiberius, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was 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.” According to one commentator, this would be either 26 or 27 A.D. Pilate, the Roman procurator had final authority in Judea. The remainder of the kingdom of Herod the Great was divided between his sons Herod Antipas (9:7; 23:6-7) and Philip. Abilene, north of Philip’s rule, was closely associated with it during the first century. Annas and his son-in-law Caiaphas (Jn 18:13) controlled the Jewish temple and priests. Caiaphas was the high priest (Mt 26:3; Jn 11:49); Annas, though retired retained his prestige (Acts 4:6).1

   Why does Luke take the time to mention all of these people of power and influence? Well, Luke, in chapter one of his gospel, you remember, stated his purpose of the gospel was “to write an orderly account.” Luke thus seems concerned with the historical context of his gospel story. The backdrop of history in Luke’s gospel helps readers to have a larger, more meaningful picture of the story. Seeing the larger picture makes it more likely for the gospel story to take root in our hearts, minds and lives. 

   Luke lists these people because he wants to tell us that these were not some fairy-tale characters, the products of an overactive imagination. NO! The people in Luke’s story are real, live, human beings who lived during the time of John the Baptist and Jesus. The gospel story takes place at a certain time in a certain part of the world.

   Luke gives us this list of “the rich and famous” to employ irony to drive home his message. For Luke, God is at work in a special way when chronos time meets Kairos time. Chronos time is ordinary time, measured by seconds, minutes, hours, days, weeks, years, centuries and millennia. Kairos time is special time, holy time, time that God chooses to act in a saving way. For Luke, the irony of chronos time meeting Kairos time is that even though the contemporary political and religious leaders have the outward appearance of power, wealth and seem to be the central actors of history–God works through the most unsuspecting folks, like an eccentric prophet named John to accomplish his eternal purposes by announcing the coming Messiah. Moreover, God is active in the least likely place, the desert, a place of desolation. The irony for Luke is that the movers and shakers of society do not determine God’s saving activity. Rather, they miss what God is doing precisely because the LORD employs an eccentric desert prophet named John to prepare for the Messiah and announce his coming. Furthermore, Luke brings out his irony by telling us the Messiah himself is born of a young woman who has very little if any power and influence in the realms of politics and religion; and the place, in some barn or cave in Bethlehem is the least likely place in the world to expect the Messiah’s birth. Yet, that’s how God works according to Luke.

John the Baptizer, according to Luke, is God’s final forerunner to prepare folks for the soon-to-come Messiah. He is seen by Luke as Isaiah’s “voice of one crying out in the wilderness.” His message is clearly spoken, yet difficult to act upon: “Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.” Isn’t that easier said than done? Look at our society today. A lot of people, including the power brokers, like their crooked paths—dishonesty, breaking the law, deceitfulness abound. Some political and yes, even religious leaders in league with the powers of evil employ deceitfulness to confuse people and take advantage of them. Today, there are voices crying out in the wilderness to prepare the way of the Lord, and make his paths straight; but, alas, such voices are ignored, mocked, rejected, and sometimes even persecuted, tortured, silenced and killed by this world’s power brokers. Sometimes the power brokers even invoke the name of God to justify themselves—calling evil good and good evil.

Preparing the way of the Lord is not easy. Repentance, turning one-hundred-and-eighty degrees around is difficult. Luke goes on to quote Isaiah 40:3-5, saying that in order to prepare the way of the Lord, everything right now has to be reversed: “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.”

A lot of work is involved in all of that, don’t you think? Such a project is maybe like building a country-wide highway, like the trans-Canada. Can you image the personnel, equipment, and resources it would require to complete such a project? Notice too, that the text says: “EVERY valley shall be filled, and EVERY mountain and hill made low, and the crooked made straight, and the rough ways made smooth.” The energy, time and resources required for such an earth-transforming project are mind-boggling. However, with God all things are possible. If God is behind such an earth-transforming project, then it will happen. Or, could it be that God himself shall do all of this? Could this be referring to God making the new heavens and the new earth? Perhaps.

At any rate, we all know that a straight path in real life is easy to follow. You know where you’re going and where it leads. A crooked path is more difficult and can be dangerous. You don’t know where you’re going, how sharp are the curves, how narrow and rough is the road? On a crooked road, you don’t always know where it leads, you can get lost—sin and evil may await you. That is true both in the physical world and spiritually.

So, God’s earth-moving work continues, it started with John, and continued with the birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus. The work also has continued down through the centuries in the Church, and yes even today, whenever Jesus’ followers have been faithful to him and his gospel. As Luther said, every day we followers of Jesus need to repent; turn away from our self-centredness and focus on what we can do to lovingly serve the needs of others. In loving others, caring for the neediest, we are making God’s paths straight and preparing for Jesus and his coming to us as the baby at Christmas and in the future Kairos time when he shall come again to bring all of history to its completion. We look forward to that day when: “all flesh shall see the salvation of God.” All flesh shall see; we will come to realise, participate in, inherit, and celebrate the kingdom of God coming in all of its fullness. To that end we keep preparing for, waiting and hoping. One day our hopes and deepest longings shall come true, for that thanks be to God! Amen.

1 Cited from my Oxford Annotated Bible notes, NRSV, (New York: Oxford University Press, Inc., 1991), p. NT 82.