Sunday December 6, 2015
A Reflection on Luke 3:1-6, N.A.B.
By: Larry T
1 In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was tetrarch of Galilee, and his brother Philip tetrarch of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias was tetrarch of Abilene,
2 during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John the son of Zechariah in the desert.
3 He went throughout [the] whole region of the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins,
4 as it is written in the book of the words of the prophet Isaiah: “A voice of one crying out in the desert:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord,
make straight his paths.
5 Every valley shall be filled
and every mountain and hill shall be made low.
The winding roads shall be made straight,
and the rough ways made smooth,
6 and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.’”
As we reflect on this reading we might take a few deep breaths, close our eyes, and imagine that we are back in Jesus’ time. We’re walking parallel to the densely wooded bank of the River Jordan searching for a place to wade across when suddenly we come upon a throng of people gathered at the river edge.
Puzzled, we tap a burly onlooker on the shoulder, “What’s going on?”
He turns with a smile, “Friend, John is baptizing those who are ready to be consecrated to God.”
“Who is this John?”
“He is John the son of Zechariah and Elizabeth, but people just call him John the Baptist. Most people say that he is a true prophet of God, like Elijah of old”
Standing on our tiptoes and stretching our necks to see over the crowd we can see John immersing one pilgrim after another in the cold water of the river.
We tug on the cloak of our new friend, “How do you know that he is a true prophet of God?”
Turning he smiles again, “Just wait until you hear him preach. Besides that, the only clothing he wears is camel hair with a leather belt around his waist and all he eats is grasshoppers and wild honey as a sign of strict self-denial and spiritual discipline. Just wait, he’s almost done with the baptisms and will soon begin preaching.
Intrigued, we decide to wait around to hear what he has to say. After all, anyone who dresses in camel hair and eats grasshoppers and wild honey might be worth listening to. As soon as he finished baptizing, he dried himself off and strode to the top a nearby grassy knoll. He turned to face the crowd.
Someone said, “John tell us what to do!”
He said, “Anyone with two tunics must share with the one who has none, and the one with something to eat must do the same.”
A tax collector rose to his feet. “Master, what must I do?”
“Exact no more than the appointed rate.”
A soldier stood up to speak for his small group. “What about us? What must we do?”
John said, “No intimidation. No extortion. Be content with your pay.” Then he turned his back to the crowd and strode purposefully away into the wilderness.
John’s message was unmistakable: give up extortion, blackmail, gouging, stop being greedy, and begin sharing with those who are in greater need. He eventually became so popular that Herod Antipas, fearing an uprising, had him first imprisoned and then executed. John’s reputation was so great that early Christians had to take special care to differentiate him from Jesus and underscore his inferiority to Jesus.
Still yet, the Acts of the Apostles contains two stories (18:24-28; 19:1-7) which tell us that John’s movement not only survived long after his death, but reached as far as Ephesus. And Josephus, the Jewish historian, some sixty years after the death of John wrote, “He was a good man and had exhorted the Jews to lead righteous lives, to practice justice toward their fellows and piety toward God, and so to come to baptism;” (Ant. 18:116-119).
In the Church year John the Baptist is most prominent during the Advent season. The role of precursor or forerunner to the Lord is attributed to him by way of Isaiah 40:3:
3 A voice cries out:
In the desert prepare the way of the LORD!
Make straight in the wasteland a highway for our God!
Important as his role as precursor to the Lord is, it’s John’s message that is the essence of the Advent season. It’s in living out his message that we truly prepare for the coming of the Lord.