Advent Devotional – December 6th

Advent Week 2: Peace

December 6

Luke 3. 1-6, NRSV

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, during the high-priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness. He went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, 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.

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;

and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.”

Talk about a cluttered people. Talk about a cluttered time. While the list of names included here may seem boring and tedious, lurking just underneath them is vital information regarding what a miserable and oppressive time this was. Though Rome had ruled the area for over a hundred years, a Roman governor had only been living among them (in Jerusalem) since AD 6. Meanwhile, the first Roman emperor, Caesar Augustus, had recently died, and his successor, Tiberius, had quickly proven himself a ruthless dictator. And if these conditions weren’t unfavorable enough for the denizens of Judea, Herod-the-Great’s sons, Herod Antipas and Philip, who had recently assumed power upon their father’s passing, were known to be self-serving errand boys at the behest of the Roman crown.

Which is to say: this was a charged political and social landscape where tensions were running high. Many Jewish resistance movements had already risen and failed. The everyday Jew in Judea harbored feelings of anger, resentment, aggression, helplessness, and resignation. Yet despite all of this, the Jewish people still found themselves longing for the old story to be true: the story their prophets had foretold of a Messiah rising from among them, conquering their enemies and delivering them from bondage.

Into this milieu, then, stepped this eccentric man named John, telling people they needed to repent of their sins and be dunked in the Jordan River to symbolize the change they were undergoing.

In light of College Park’s Advent theme this season, it strikes me that John’s call to repentance was, in many ways, a call to a de-cluttering of one’s life. John’s baptism was about bringing people face-to-face with everything going on inside them. It was about people examining the feelings and emotions and expectations they had been harboring in this turbulent time. It was about sorting through everything they’d been thinking and hoping and wishing.

In short, John was calling people to make clear their hearts and minds and spirits so that they might be open and receptive and responsive to the good news of the gospel which was to follow. Which is why this very passage is so timely. We, ourselves, are living in a time of great social and political upheaval. Tensions are running high and emotions are charged. How, then, might creating space for individual examination and repentance—how might a time of softening ourselves and opening ourselves up—be precisely the way we can begin effecting real change in our own lives and in the world? How might journeying to the Jordan with John—how might going below the surface and sifting through the clutter deep down in the darkness—be a great way of preparing ourselves for the One we have been longing for all this time? The One who can truly deliver us and make us whole?

Prayer: Dear Lord, We are so consumed by the things going on around us and inside us. They distract us and divert our attention from you… from the wholeness to which you, in your grace, are calling us. We are burdened by the state of the world, and we are burdened by our own shortcomings. We fluctuate between anger and resignation, and we need your Spirit to deliver us.  In your mercy, God, help us to see ourselves and the world with fresh eyes—with the eyes of your Spirit—that we might discern what is becoming in us and what is not. May your Spirit then empower us to hold onto that which is edifying and discard that which is not. Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer. Amen.

Action: Write a one paragraph letter to John, telling him why you’ve followed him to the Jordan and what it is you feel you need to repent of. Moreover, tell him why you think repenting and undergoing this change is important—both for yourself and for the world.

Austin Carty is Pastor of First Baptist Church, Corbin in Kentucky.

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