9 December 2018 Preparing for the Baby Martin Baker
1 In the fifteenth year of the reign of Emperor Tiberius, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was ruler of Galilee, and his brother Philip ruler of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias ruler of Abilene, 2 during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness. 3 He went into all the region around 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, "The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: 'Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. 5 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; 6 and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.'"
In the fifteenth year of the reign of Emperor Tiberius.
Tiberius was emperor from 14 Ad to 37 AD - so the 15th year, mentioned in our reading today, would have been 29 AD. Tiberius was born in 42 BC so he would be 71. 1 Year younger than Donald Trump and 34 years older than Jacinda Adern. The word of God comes to John.
So do dates matter? Clearly they matter to Luke.
How old are you? Do you mind telling the person beside you how old you are?
I wonder how many people here would rather other people didn’t know how old they were?
We celebrate Birthdays in our family ministries programme and at Clevedon Kidz and Get Set, and at our programme on Sunday mornings and at Hatch. The most widely sung song in the world, I think, is ‘happy birthday.’
Someone the other day thought I was much older than I am, and it has stuck with me for some reason. And I kind of think of that person who thought I was much older than I am, in a different kind of way now.
Next year I will turn 60 and some people will tell me that’s significant but I don’t know if I will look forward to that very much. I’m in my 50’s and then I will be in my 60’s. Is that a good thing? Will that be alright? (There’s no one here today that can answer that question)
As our lives change, the significance of dates change.
Our scripture this morning starts in a strange way. But it’s to tell us that some very significant thing has happened. Has really happened.
1 In the fifteenth year of the reign of Emperor Tiberius, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was ruler of Galilee, and his brother Philip ruler of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias ruler of Abilene, 2 during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness.
There is a date. Something real and important has happened in this midst of this real history.
It would be like saying
On the second Sunday in December of the year 2018. Prime Minister Jacinda Adern has ruled a coalition government for 1 year, and it’s the 67th year of the reign of Queen Elizabeth the Second. The word of God was heard at Clevedon.
You can see what the gospel writer is doing when we are given all these details about the word of God coming to John son of Zechariah during the reign of Emperor Tiberius. We are been told something which is deliberately very specific. As specific as our birth dates.
That the word of God isn’t an abstract thought – it makes a difference, and it comes within the context of all these very real political and social changes, these things happening in the world around us.
Prepare the way of the Lord, make his path straight. Every valley shall be filled, every mountain and hill made low. Enormous forces are at work here. Making his path straight. It’s the establishment of new foundations not just the paving over of old ones.
I drive down to Papakura – over the last couple of years you would have seen the size of some of that earth moving equipment down there? The hills being smoothed out. Bigger and bigger, deeper and deeper. More and more people working. Incredible feat of coordination.
Every valley shall be filled and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the rough ways made to appear smooth, and all flesh shall see the salvation of the Lord. The language John uses for preparation it’s in fact the language of engineering and building. Changing the landscape. Changing what we had become use to. Even what we had thought was permanent. Creating something new.
Power was always measured in terms of engineering feats and achievements. Power measured in terms of how big a hole you could dig in the ground. You could tell the greatness of the king or queen by the roads that were built during their reign. Think of Trump Towers. The Pharaohs paid homage to the Gods with the temples. Great symbols of the creation myths of their day. The temple the Jews built was the pinnacle of human achievement and success. Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. Every valley shall be filled and every mountain and hill shall be made low. It’s hard to look much beyond lunchtime.
John’s message about preparing. A change of landscape. Things you thought were not going to be any different. We all know what it means to prepare for people, a guest or family to arrive. Some of us know first-hand what it’s like to prepare for the arrival of a baby. We’ve seen what efforts communities of nations will go to prepare for the coming of an event or a leader of state. This preparation and it’s link here to repentance. To changing the way we think and act.
It’s not too hard to think about habit or behaviours that we need to address. But here it’s a much more positive thing. The change that comes from being excited from anticipation from looking forward.
Perhaps we feel there is nothing to prepare for? Nothing to get ready for. The same old thing. John’s message focused not on making people feel bad, but a message for those who long for something better. That whatever our situation whatever we have assumed would never change. Maybe. That there is something worth preparing for. All flesh, John says, will see the salvation of God. And if you or I really don’t want anything to be different from how it is now, then John’s message is especially disturbing.
The biscuits we are preparing this week for prisoners, the gifts we have delivered over the last weeks for their children, the food parcels. We’ve been given over $1000 already through the angel tree for vouchers for food for children none of us will probably know.
Remember Jesus began his ministry by announcing that he has come to bring good news to the poor and hungry and sick and those in prison. These gifts from us they’re all about expressions of the good news that breaks the cycles of hopelessness that can be created by the situations we find ourselves in. Someone you don’t know, and will probably never knows is mindful of you simply because you matter. You too are one of God’s children.
If you are a child in poverty in Papakura, if you are a prisoner who has done bad things, no matter what situation we believe in a God who changes things. Who is worth preparing for. Who comes to us.
God is speaking a new word into the lives.
Preparing the way for the Lord making his paths straight
John the Baptist had a simple message which also came with high price tag. WE must feel the firm unconditional grace of God before we have the strength to confess. Security breeds honesty. Insecurity fosters deceit. Forgiveness John tells us brings with it the knowledge of salvation. By the tender mercy of our God the dawn from on high will break upon us to give light to those who sit in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.
Zechariah gives us a pre-Christmas strategy. Giving people a knowledge of salvation through the acts of acts of forgiveness. Bringing light to those who live in darkness and in the shadow of death. Guiding feet in the way of peace.
There is a date. A birthday. One to look forward to. On the second Sunday of December 2018. Jucinda Adern is Prime Minister and Patsy Reddy Governor General. The word of God comes to us. Come to us. A path through the fears concerns, a path that leads forward beyond the grief and failures. The new discoveries. John calls us to repent. To make the simply and costly decision. Repent. Change. The baby has come and now things can be different. Must be different. We've had enough. And now our salvation draws near.
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