Advent 2, 9 December, 2018 Sermon Summary Text: Luke 3.1-6
Theme: A time for renewal - David Reichardt
Normanhurst UC Advent 2, 9 December, 2018 Sermon Summary
Text: Luke 3.1-6 Theme: A time for renewal
This morning we’ll think about living in “a time for renewal”. I said last Sunday that Advent is largely about ‘Waiting, Patience and Hope’ So is life. Neither is just about doing, unthinkingly. Nor are they about waiting, passively, Good waiting is a synonym for preparing. Waiting is an activity. A couple of examples.
It became evident on Thursday that the Australian cricket team and establishment have not simply sat on their hands, waiting for the bans on Steve Smith, David Warner and Cam Bancroft to end. The world’s best team, India, were due in Australia before the bans ended. So, there has been a review and a clean out of Cricket Australia’s administration. A new, highly credentialed national coach and a less-credentialed but able national captain have been appointed. The new coach set about instilling passion and intensity into the national team, qualities very different from the rude, crude culture that seemed to be driving the team previously. Another example has to do with marriage. Yesterday a good friend who has waited until he was about 50 actually tied the knot. His long-suffering mother is beyond delighted. She can’t think of a woman who could be better suited to her son. The wait for the perfect match has been long, and at times dispiriting, but she feels it has been worth it.
In these examples the time of waiting has been employed actively for renewal, or at least for getting things right. There is a rightness that emerges from the time of waiting and renewal. The same cannot be said for Israel’s national experience. This was NOT simply that they were set free from slavery in Egypt, and returned to their Promised Land, there to live happily ever after. That would have been wonderful, though not for the peoples they dispossessed. But one wonders how they would have borne God’s message of salvation to the world as a small, self-contained little nation, or even as some sort of war-like nation that formed its own empire. God remarkably used Israel’s pain that I’ll now outline.
Immediately after their one attempt to be an empire - when David and Solomon were kings
- the nation divided. The northern portion was soon carted off into slavery by the Assyrians, never to return. Later, the southerners were also made captives in Babylon. Then they were set free, and returned to their country. Except for a brief, 100 year period they were never free to rule what they regarded as their own land. First the Greeks and their descendants, then the Romans kept them in some sort of gigantic house arrest. When they ran out of patience and rebelled they provoked what Jesus warned them so strenuously against. They were hammered by the Romans, their national life was destroyed and they were dispersed around the world. 2, 0000 years later some have returned to a situation in which they are hated and opposed relentlessly. Some still wait for Messiah.
So patience isn’t just about waiting. You have to wait in the right way! At the right time God’s great plan of salvation moved into gear. Luke locked it in to the 15th year of the reign of the Roman emperor Tiberius Caesar, the adopted son of Augustus Caesar. Locally
3 “tetrarchs”, rulers of parts of Judaea and Galilee, are mentioned: Herod Antipas, his brother Philip and Lysanias. God’s Word comes first to Jesus’ slightly older cousin John the Baptist. John’s task is another form of active waiting. It’s called “getting ready” by the prophet Isaiah who uses an image from road-building for preparing the Way of the Lord. Not that Jesus’ way was anything like straight and flat, but John certainly put Jesus’ mission into the spotlight, and prepared the way for Him. To change the image to an ecological one, imagine massive floods sweeping through the countryside. You expect the police, the SES, and in extreme circumstances the army to show up, warn people, and get them to safety. That’s the sort of thing John was doing. And people believed his warnings. They came to him for a different sort of flooding - called baptism. What was the emergency, and how could being plunged into the Jordan River help people to avoid that danger?
Luke’s introduction to the story of John the baptist also tells us a list of names and places in a story of oppression and misery that was building up to explosion point. Rome had ruled the area for about 100 years. Since 6AD had the Roman governor actually lived in the area. Emperor Augustus Caesar had died in AD14, and successor Tiberius, was already worshipped as a god in the eastern parts of the empire. Herod Antipas and Philip ruled as client kings of Rome in the northern part of the country. Most Jews didn’t regard Herod the Great’s sons as real rulers. Like dictators today they had achieved power by illegitimate means and they retained power through fear and oppression. Rome had taken direct control over the south, including Jerusalem, where the high priests were not much better. Add to this powder keg the Jews’ famous sense of being God’s peculiar people who clung stubbornly to their belief in one, holy, almighty God. The feeling of intense dislike towards the Romans was mutual.
In this toxic situation devout Jews longed for a new word from God. Some believed that prophecy had died out but would be revived. Many believed that a movement would begin through which their God would renew the age-old covenant, and bring Israel out of slavery and into new freedom. The prophets had spoken of a time of renewal, through which God Himself would come back to them. They had only a sketchy idea of what this would look like, but the prospect made them willing to listen to John and his fiery message of renewal. Baptism in the Jordan was a powerful sign of this renewal. It harked back to the exodus from Egypt, during which God brought Israel through the Red Sea, the Sinai wilderness and across the very Jordan River John was now baptising people in. Now the people were in internal slavery, and they longed for a new Exodus to bring them to freedom. So like the prophets of old John was saying, “The way to escape slavery is not to rise up against the Romans, but to return to God with your hearts and souls.
That is, to repent. That is how you wait actively and prepare in this situation. Hence John’s agenda: a baptism of repentance of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. John was fulfilling the word of the prophet Isaiah. He was preparing a pathway for the Lord Himself to return to HIs people. This was the time. Rescue was at hand.