The Lukan passage for this second Sunday of Advent is full of surprises.
It is surprising that bypassing seven high profile individuals like Emperor Tiberius, Governor Pontius Pilate, rulers Herod, Philip and Lysanias, high priests Annas and Caiaphas, God reaches out to a locust and honey eating, camel hair skirt wearing prophet to be the divine spokesperson. It is also surprising that it doesn’t take place in the corridor of power in Rome or in the sanctuary of the Temple of Jerusalem but in the wilderness.
God is full of surprises as the word of God comes to unlikely persons in unlikely places. God’s word may not confirm what we already know or expect but may shock us out of our spiritual slumber to see God and God’s kingdom in a new way. This advent, may we be surprised as to where and through whom we meet God in the child of Mary.
John eats honey but his words are not sweet, at least not in this instance as he calls the people approaching him for baptism “brood of vipers”. He not only calls names, what he exhorts in verses 8-10 is anything but good news. But sometimes good news come in bitter capsules.
John uses harsh words lest the crowd miss his message of following God and preparing the way of the Lord. Surprisingly, people respond positively. They ask three times in hymnic refrain fashion, “What should we do?” which become our question – what should we do in this moment of history?
Preparing the way of the Lord, John says, requires repentance of our hearts that will lead us outward into action. His three answers to the crowd are down to earth practical responses: selfless sharing, anti-economic bullying, and being content with what one has. The rite of repentance and baptism is fused with social justice and service to others. How should we prepare? should be our question as well on this third Sunday of Advent.
This is an amazing encounter between two women – Elizabeth and Mary. Elizabeth childless for many years knows the frustrations, pain, and stigma of being barren in a culture where a woman’s worth is measured almost entirely by her ability to bear children. She is now pregnant. Mary, the other woman who is almost too young to have a baby and unmarried, is also pregnant. There is fear, anxiety and stigma.
However, their encounter is extraordinary as the two would be mothers embrace each other in tears and joy. The child in Elizabeth’s womb leaps as if confirming that this a sign of God’s providence. “Blessed are you”, Mary says, who knows that God is at work. She breaks into song, a song with an unconventional lyric, as it proclaims God’s work of transforming and reordering of everything – economically, socially and politically. As Elizabeth and Mary allow their bodies to be transformed according to God’s promise, may we allow God to transform our humanity. May we too, like Mary, sing a song of transformation of our world as we prepare to celebrate Christmas.
It is a “lost and found” story but of a different kind. Jesus is lost as a twelve-year-old boy after his family came to Jerusalem to attend the Passover festival. After three days of frantic searching his parents find him in the temple discussing the finer points of theology with the teachers of the Temple. After three days! Luke’s hint here is of resurrection. Jesus, dead and buried, is raised on the third day, and there is a new temple, Christ’s resurrected body.
But the Easter is long way off. In the meantime, Jesus returns to Nazareth and spends the next two decades away from the centres of religion and politics, in the company of ordinary people. Here Jesus continues to grow “in wisdom and in years, and in divine and human favour.” This is an invitation to every child of God, regardless of their age, to grow “in wisdom and in divine and human favour” to discern what God expects of them for God’s ministry in the world.
Rev. Dr Manas Ghosh is Minister at St John’s Uniting Church, Wahroonga