Advent 2 – St. Luke 3:1-14
Did you recognize any of the names in the first 2 verses of our Gospel text?
If this were a Bible study, we would likely take a few minutes to discuss who each of these men in the first 2 verses were, and discuss how they are listed here to give a historic date and place to the words of John the Baptist that follow.
However, normally in a sermon, we would skip over them and get right into the heart of the message of John the Baptist, calling people to repent of their sins and prepare themselves for the coming of the Lord.
After all, to our own ears, these names are historical footnotes, and they do not lend much to our general reading of the text.
But in the year 29AD, these names were quite familiar to all those living in Israel. And to the ears of both Jew and Gentile, these names should have given an assurance of peace and security and stability.
Tiberius Caesar ruled the Roman Empire, which covered a substantial portion of the known world. Under him was the local governor Pontius Pilate, and under him were tetrarchs Herod and Philip and Lysanias. The whole world was at peace thanks to the order and rule provided by the Roman Empire.
Locally, Annas and Caiaphas oversaw the religious structure in Israel. Serving as high priests, they ensured that the worship life in Israel was maintained to the highest standards, and that the Jewish way of life as prescribed by the Law of Moses was continued, even while under the rule of a pagan government.
The average Jew living in the land could do so in the trust and confidence that there would not only be good roads for travel and protection from enemies, but that they were not being led astray in their worship life.
Compared to other periods of time in the ancient world, this does not sound like such a bad time to live, in fact, in many respects, it sounds a lot like our own day and age.
So why do we read that in the midst of such peace and stability, great crowds were going out to hear John the Baptist?
What was missing in the lives of these people that they were not satisfied with? What drew them away from the safety and security of their lives, out into the wilderness where they heard a radical message, telling them that their whole way of life was wrong?
Perhaps the answer is not as difficult as we think.
Instead of providing just the historical background for the time and place of the ministry of John the Baptist, these names also give us a context and a worldview for the what people saw in their daily lives.
Daily lives that are not quite so different from our own.
In the 239th year of the United States, with Barack Obama as President and Sam Brownback as governor; and a culture that allows you to do as you please; and our local way of life being safe and secure; what brings you here, to this place, to hear the radical message that what much of society is doing is wrong, and that there needs to be repentance and a change in the way that we live our lives?
In a day and age when all seems to be going well, why do the people in Israel in 29AD go out into the wilderness to hear John the Baptist? Why do you, in 2015, come here to hear the words of John the Baptist spoken to you again?
The answer is quite simple, for it is the theme of this and every Advent. You come seeking hope, for there is in fact very little hope in the world.
You, much like the people in Israel, look at the government and find no hope. The world may be at peace, but corruption is rampant; even those who strive to do good are stained with the slime of improper actions. At every turn there are wars and rumors of wars, bringing forth death and destruction.
You, much like the people in Israel, look at the dominant forces around you, and find no hope. For Israel, it was the high priests, demanding perfect adherence to the law, and knowing in their hearts that this was an impossible task. For you, it is looking out at a culture that adheres to no laws at all, and knowing that the world is slowly burning itself to death.
All of the places and systems that surround us may serve the purpose of keeping us safe and secure and happy, but none offer any hope. They are built up and maintained, but they offer nothing more than the means to get from one day to the next.
And what does John the Baptist offer both in 29AD and today?
He offers hope.
He offers hope that as you sit in a world that is corrupt and determined to destroy itself, there is one who watches over the world and brings true peace and security to those sitting in darkness. He brings hope that there is one who sits enthroned above that orders all things for His purposes. He offers hope that there is a ruler who uses His authority not for personal gain or for rewarding only those who are loyal to Him, but who desires that all people might be saved.
John the Baptist offers hope that there is forgiveness for those who fail to perfectly keep the Law. He offers hope that for those who fall short of the full glory of God, there is hope that one has already kept the law perfectly on your behalf and that you will be rewarded for His keeping of the Law.
John the Baptist offers hope that this is not a world that operates in mere chaos, but that there is an instruction set forth of loving your neighbor, helping those in need, and living as one of God’s own children.
John the Baptist comes and he offers hope. Hope to those sitting in darkness. Hope to those discouraged with the world. Hope to those who see nothing but chaos around them. Hope to those who see God as far off and distant.
Why do people make their way out into the wilderness? Because in the wilderness they hear a message unlike anything else they hear in their daily lives. The Roman government and the religious system offer only despair and condemnation; in the wilderness, surrounded by sand and lizards, they hear a message of hope, a Savior is coming, who will make all things new.
Why have you gathered here today? Because in this place you hear a message unlike anything else you hear in your daily lives. Our own government and culture offer only despair and condemnation; yet in this place, sitting on hard pews and singing an ancient liturgy, you hear a message of hope; a Savior is coming, who will make all things new.
The message today is one of hope. In a world that has no hope of solving its problems, in a world where there is no hope of putting the mess of society back together again, in a world where there is no hope in your lives of your own accord, you come here seeking hope.
And there is hope here in this place, just as there was hope on the banks of the Jorden River some 2000 years ago.
The hope is the promise of Jesus.
Soon and very soon, a Savior is coming who will redeem His people from sin, death and the powers of hell. Soon and very soon, a Savior is coming who will judge the separate the righteous from the unrighteous. Soon and very soon, a Savior is coming who will restore the fortunes of His people, who will shine the light of hope on those sitting in darkness.
This is a very unique crowd that gathers on the banks of the Jordan, just as you are a very unique group that gather here this morning in this place. You live in a world that is ruled and governed by Caesars and Presidents; a world that has sealed its fate with the culture that dominates it; a world that is without hope.
You, just like the crowds gathered on the Jordan, come seeking hope.
And you find that hope in the promise of a Savior, Jesus, who is coming soon.