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Baruch 5:1-9 • Luke 1:68-79 • Philippians 1:3-11 • Luke 3:1-6
First a quick quiz question for those reading their Luke chapters: Which ‘character’ shows up most in the first few chapters? … Hint: She’s also known as the Spirit of Wisdom in the Older Covenant. … Right – the Holy Spirit is mentioned about 7 times in Luke before Jesus starts his ministry! Obviously, she got there before him.
Our Theme for Advent Two is Peace. In our Baruch reading from the Apocrypha, peace comes when things that are too high are lowered; and when things that are too low are raised up. Baruch envisions a future Jerusalem that stands for “Righteous Peace” – in other words: peace comes when there is righteousness or justice – when balance is restored instead of the unfairness and imbalance of gross inequalities, like those so prevalent in our world today. About 600 years before Luke wrote his gospel, we hear the same words from Baruch about how God’s reign causes the mountains to be lowered, metaphorically speaking, and the valleys or depressions to be filled in “to make level ground, so that Israel may walk safely in the glory of God.” This leveling and balancing is a keynote feature of the justice required for peace to prevail.
Working Preacher website offered a great commentary on today’s gospel, written by Audrey West from the Moravian Theological Seminary in Pennsylvania. Commenting on Luke 3:5 “Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill be laid low, and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth” she writes:
"Not only do raised-up valleys and flattened mountains lead to smooth passages, but they also represent radical transformation. The language of reversal, common in Luke, evokes words from Mary’s [Magnificat] song, “He has brought down the powerful from their thrones and lifted up the lowly” (Luke 1:52; see also Luke 4:18). Nothing looks the same; everything is changed. This is a world set right by being turned on its head—not by the top-down power that is so often prized by humans, but by the upside down power of God." (emphasis mine)
Good to know that the language of reversal is common in Luke, and that’s part of why I love Luke’s gospel. My parents’ old-country ideas contained some of this language of reversal. For example, my father liked to point out that things which start out badly often end up going very well. No logic, no rhyme or reason to that, but still to this day, when things go badly near the outset of something, I’m encouraged by remembering this idea of his. It makes further sense to me given that I’ve come to believe that the Holy Spirit loves to surprise us. It’s potentially a type of antidote to our all-too-common human tendency towards wanting to be in control of things; or wanting our lives to unfold in a predictable way. Sadly, this can lead to a sense of entitlement, or to a clinging onto past privilege … instead of being open to new ways of seeing things.
Then Audrey West turns to our pandemic experiences:
"Today, having experienced the wilderness-level trauma of a global pandemic for nearly two years, many people long for certainty about the road ahead. Some hope for a new life, others ache to return to the way things were, and still others have little energy to look beyond the struggles of the current day. Very little is certain about the post-pandemic world, except for the promise represented by John’s proclamation in the wilderness: God enters this time and this space in this period of history, so that “all flesh shall see the salvation of God” (Luke 3:6)."
Yes indeed, we’ve been forced to live with so much Covid 19 uncertainty and just when we think the worst is behind us, we hear of new and scarier variants. If the story of the origins of Covid 19 are true, it’s mind-boggling to think that this may all have emerged from someone in China eating an undercooked bat. Of all the scary things we’ve known in the past, from nuclear weapons to high rates of cancer and other serious diseases, who could have imagined something like this?
And today we also heard another Luke passage instead of a psalm – it’s the Song of Zechariah that he utters after nine months of being silenced by God’s angel messenger – since he questioned how it was possible for him and Elizabeth, both of advanced age, to have a son who becomes John the Baptist. When Mary questions the angel Gabriel as to how she could become pregnant while being a virgin, she’s told that nothing is impossible with God (Lk 1:37). But she was a mere teenager, whereas an older experienced priest like Zechariah presumably should know better. This beloved Song of Zechariah ends so beautifully by saying: “By the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high shall break upon us, to give light to those who sit in darkness and … to guide our feet into the way of PEACE.” We are so fortunate to live in a peaceful time and place, but of course so many people in the world do NOT have that immense privilege.
We’re continually challenged to try and understand how we can contribute to making the world a place of greater justice, so that peace can be possible for more and more people. I’m confident that the people here today do their best to make decisions that might bring greater justice to the world, to be compassionate whenever possible, and to spread God’s mercy far and wide. As Paul says in our epistle today: “For God is my witness, how I long for all of you with the compassion of Christ Jesus. And this is my prayer that your love may overflow more and more with knowledge and full insight to help you to determine what is best” (v 8-10). A good prayer that we can carry forward, asking to be filled with God’s compassionate love for all who suffer from cruel injustice in our world. May we gain greater knowledge and insight as to how we can change our world, and participate in the work of bringing forth greater compassion and justice everywhere, so as to be instruments of God’s desire that all may live in PEACE, Amen.