Prepare the Way - Weekly Reflections 12-2-15

Texts for the Second Sunday of Advent
 December 6, 2015

Malachi 3:1-4
Luke 1:68-79
Philippians 1:3-11
Luke 3:1-6

At Gloria Dei we are having a special service on December 6 which is led by our choir. It will focus on the first 2 chapters of the Gospel of Luke which the Revised Common Lectionary assigns for Christmas Eve and the 2 Sundays of Christmas .  Our appointed lessons overlap with those we use this Sunday in the Song of Zachariah, Luke 1:68-79. For more on this Sunday’s service, see The Canticles of Luke post on our website. 

Sound of a shofar (ram’s horn) off stage. A voice sings out through the darkness “Prepare ye the way of the Lord!”  The lights come up. The musical Godspell begins.  I have seen the musical more times than I can count, from high school productions and community theater to Broadway. Prepare the way.

All four Gospels include John’s role in Jesus' ministry of preparing the way, each with their unique emphasis.  So pay attention to how Luke introduces John’s ministry (if you read Zachariah’s song in Luke 1, you’ll hear that preparing the way was John’s commission from the moment he was born).  You get a preview of the themes we get through the Gospel.

Luke locates John’s cry in the historical situation of imperial Rome and the particular shape it takes in the region. Luke makes it clear that this story of God-Made-Flesh is set within an empire that requires the subjected peoples to adopt value systems that are alien to them, with leaders of the region who were cooperating with that system. Luke lifts up the social, political, and economic setting of history to remind readers of all those not mentioned in that line up – those required to be subject to alien values, those who are oppressed (as he does similarly in Luke 2 which we read on Christmas Eve).

How John prepares the way in that setting will be addressed more fully next Sunday. This week we hear John announce that all flesh shall see the salvation of God.  All? Salvation? 

Who is all? In the imperial culture of the first century, all does not mean all. All only means the people who count: the rich, the powerful, the dominant.  Luke makes it clear from the start of his Gospel (re-read that Song of Zachariah, and while you are at it, read the Song of Mary which is assigned for December 20:  Luke 1:46-55): Luke is including all in his all, including the oppressed, poor, outsiders. How about today? Who do we include in our all?

And what is salvation? That is a hard one for us today. Our religious culture over the past century or more has made salvation into something that separates the righteous from the unrighteous. It is a word of requirements.  It has been used to bludgeon people who did not live the “right” kind of life and to threaten them with everlasting damnation.  The focus has been on what will happen if you die tonight. Pie in the sky by and by?  Or maybe tonight?

Nope.  Salvation is here and now.  God walks among us in Jesus.  Using the work of Marcus Borg in Speaking Christian, here are some Biblical images for salvation: liberation from bondage; return from exile; rescue from peril; blindness to sight; death to life; infirmity to well-being; from fear to trust. AND focus again on that historical setting Luke recounts – Borg includes two more images: injustice to justice; violence to peace. Salvation for all means transformation in our personal lives but salvation for all also means transformation of the systems that continue to discriminate, oppress, and injure people.

Hang on to your hats because this “Year of Luke” is just beginning. Luke has only begun to challenge us to look around the present for our salvation is near. 

How would you define salvation? What would does restoration of life mean for you here and now?

How have recent events - terrorist attacks, the Blacks Lives Matter movement, the Syrian refugee crisis - affected your views about inclusivity?

How can you prepare the way?

Check out the G.I.F.T. post for this Sunday, December 6, for more ways to reflect on these verses.

I'd love to hear your thoughts. Please use the comment section below.

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Gloria Dei Lutheran Church in Iowa City

Gathered by grace. Scattered for service.

123 E Market Street
Iowa City, IA 52245