Second Sunday in Advent

by Crossings

Luke 3:1-6
(Second Sunday in Advent)
Analysis by Steve Kuhl

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 Ituracea 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 or 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.'”

DIAGNOSIS: The Way of the Old World

Step 1–Initial Diagnosis: Immersed in the Old World Order
In the backdrop of the first century is the “old world order.” Here emperor, governors, rulers, and even the high priest are assumed busy managing God’s fragile world. These authoritative persons are part of the “world” order because they work for the Creator. Even its ancient hierarchical structure might fit under that description. What makes this world order “old,” however, is the method of management–what Luke elsewhere calls the “law and the prophets” (16:16). That authority seeks to balance credits and debits and to enforce pay-back (20:22). The old methods of management are still very much is use today, no matter how up-to-date the packaging. All of us are immersed in that “old world order,” and for good reason: we are part of this fragile and corrupt world that needs “reigning and ruling” to provide some semblance of order (however much we may complain of taxes and restrictive governmental regulations). Therefore, we “make a path” for this “old”-style rule in our life.

Step 2–Advanced Diagnosis: All-consumed by the Old World Order
Precisely because the “old world order” of calculating credits and debits is such an essential part of daily life, it is easy for us to become ‘all-consumed’ by the accounting process itself. Worse yet, because of its naturalness, we can easily fool ourselves concerning our ability to balance the books. We can become like the gambler at the craps table who, after accumulating a mountain of debt, still believes that the next throw of the die will wash out the debt. The upshot of such an all-consuming “faith” is that it will determine our future. It leaves no path for any other option. It is a perverse twist on Luther’s phrase about the nature of faith: as we believe, so shall we have.

Step 3–Final Diagnosis: Bankruptcy/Wilderness (=”no salvation”)
One thing is certain: the accounting process will not go on forever. In the last analysis, the last act of God in the “old world order” will be to call for a settling of accounts for every one of us. For those who are all-consumed by the old world accounting process, that act can mean only one thing: bankruptcy, a wilderness existence, our total negation. “Every valley shall be filled and every mountain shall be made low.”

PROGNOSIS: The New Way for the World

Step 4–Initial Prognosis: From the Wilderness to a New World Order
While it is true that the blame for this bankrupt situation rests completely on us and not on God, nevertheless, God mercifully chooses to deal with the matter by bringing about a whole new world order. What is amazing about this new order is that it comes out of the “wilderness,” out of nothingness, out of the very state of bankruptcy that the old order leaves behind. As such, the new order is in no way beholden to the old, including its emperors, governors, rulers, and high priests. It is beholden only to its inaugurator, the Lord Jesus Christ, who in his death embraces our bankruptcy, and in his resurrection gives us riches beyond measure: the forgiveness of sin, indeed, the very negation of the old order. This is not a system of accounting and pay-back, but of repentance and forgiveness–that is the essence of the new world order; and it is very much in the world.

Step 5–Advanced Prognosis: All-consumed . . . by repentance
This new world order is in the world by preoccupying those who belong to its newness. We become all-consumed by repentance. However, unlike our former nerve-racking preoccupation with the old world accounting system, our new all-consuming passion is characterized as pure joy. Why is repentance joyous? Answer: because repentance is not the price we pay in some grand accounting scheme for forgiveness, but rather that best evidence we have that the new order of forgiveness is fully operational in our life–now! It is the “straight, smooth” path by which the Lord of the new order comes to us and rules with forgiveness.

Step 6–Final Prognosis: Baptized into the New World Order
Having been baptized, we are citizens of the new world order, of which repentance is a sign. Nevertheless, we continue to live in the midst of the old world order. We live there, first of all, to support the rulers of the older order in their ruling as God’s servants for the “ordering” of society. Even though we, as we live repentantly, no longer require the taxing regulations of the old world order to keep us “in order,” we know that many people do need that ordering. The old order has not yet reached its ultimate end, and the old process of calculating credits and debts has not ceased, but its days are certainly numbered. Secondly, we continue to live in the old order so that we can “voice” and be the bearer of the new. Although that “voice” will always sound strange to old-order people (like a word from nowhere, like “a voice in the wilderness”), that simply underscores just how new and different the new order is–and how necessary it is for us, like John the Baptist, to be its bearers.


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