Second Sunday in Advent – December 5, 2009 – St John’s, Goshen
Of the four Evangelists St. Luke is the one with an almost modern historical sensibility and an author’s sense of drama and plot. His brief prefaces to his two works, the Gospel and the Acts of the Apostles state his purpose and the care he has taken with his sources. His Gospel begins with the carefully crafted accounts of the births of John the Baptist and of Jesus; it ends with the lovely account of the encounter between the risen Christ and two disciples on the road to Emmaus. And today we have heard how he begins the public drama of the mission and ministry of Christ. Listen to it again:
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 Iturea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias was tetrarch of Abilene, during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiphas…
After all that, what follows? What great event is being prepared by this solemn drum-roll, this precise location of time and place? Luke tells us: “…the word of God came to John the son of Zechariah in the desert.” “The word of God came”–a formula that echoes the language of the prophets–“The word of the Lord,” is their favorite formula–and suggests that, after a long silence, bewailed in the Psalms–“How long, Lord?”–the voice of a prophet is heard in the land again.
And what is the message of this prophet John? He locates himself in the desert, often in the Bible the place of encounter between God and prophets, God and his people. There, in that wilderness, John is a voice crying out that the great prophecies of the restoration of Israel are about to be fulfilled. What Isaiah and Baruch had promised is about to happen: the Lord is about to lead his people to salvation. So prepare the road for him, prepare a highway for him: fill in the valleys! level the hills! straighten the curves! smooth the rough patches! Go up on a hill, Jerusalem! Look to the east and west and see your children, gathered from the east and the west at the word of the Holy One, rejoicing that they are remembered by God! This is the word of God that came to John the son of Zechariah in the desert.
As these words are read and explained to us in this Church, the word of God comes once again. We could make up our own drum roll: In the fourth year of the presidency of Barak Obama, when Andrew Cuomo is governor of New York and Edward Diana is Orange County Executive, when Benedict XVI is Bishop of Rome and Timothy Dolan Archbishop of New York. And what follows? The word of God comes… Comes to whom? Comes to us, comes to you and me, comes to this Church.
Anticlimactic, you say? But no more anticlimactic than what followed Luke’s drum roll. Imagine one of those satellite cameras: zeroing in, as the names are read, coming in closer and closer, until they have focused on a wilderness in a tiny province of the Roman Empire, on a wild man dressed in camel’s skin, surviving on locusts and wild honey. Well, that camera has now zoomed in and focused on us, on us and on every congregation upon which the word of God is coming today.
This is what happens every time we gather for Church. Through the biblical readings the word of God comes to us at every Mass. Its message is the same one that the prophets brought, that the Baptist proclaimed: that God comes for our salvation. That is the first and last message, the basic message: we are remembered by God–what a lovely phrase! We are remembered by God; everyone of us can say: I am remembered by God! We are within God’s consciousness, and he has a word of salvation, of healing, of comfort, of freedom. All he requires of us is to prepare a way for him, to get ready to greet him when he comes, to join in the crowd joyfully following him on a highway to salvation.