We’re reading from the Gospel of Luke today. He plays a major role in the season of Advent. All this year, in fact, we’ll be reading from Luke’s Gospel on Sundays.
When you read Luke, notice especially his thrust towards the world beyond Judaism. Though he repeats most of the stories about Jesus found in the gospels of Mark and Matthew, Luke emphasizes the universal message of Jesus. His gospel is meant for everybody.
In Luke’s gospel, for example, old Simeon in the temple predicts the Child will be a “light of revelation to the gentiles.” ( Luke 2, 32) “All flesh shall see the salvation of our God,” John the Baptist says to today’s gospel. (Luke 3,6) Outsiders like Namaan the Syrian and the widow of Zareptha will accept his gospel rather than his neighbors, Jesus says in the synagogue at Nazareth. (Luke 4,17 ff) After his resurrection Jesus tells his disciples “A message of repentance and forgiveness would be preached to all nations.” (Luke 24,47)
Luke further emphasizes that the Christian message is good for this world. It brings life. The Acts of the Apostles, Luke’s sequel to his gospel, tells of the beneficial spread of the gospel from Jerusalem to Rome, “the ends of the earth.”
In today’s gospel for the 2nd Sunday of Advent you can see the evangelist’s universal thrust. He introduces John the Baptist by a list of impressive world leaders: Tiberius Caesar, Pontius Pilate, Herod Antipas and Philip, the sons of Herod the Great, and the Jewish priests Anna and Caiaphas– all significant figures, and most strong opponents of Jesus.
They represent the power structure of the day, but Luke is not interested in their stories. He would have us recognize the real power in this world: Jesus and John.
How insignificant John the Baptist seems compared to an emperor and Roman governor, other powerful rulers and priests. Unkempt in appearance and in ragged clothes, John looks like a nobody as he preaches to travelers near the Jordan River, on the road to Jerusalem. What power does he have? Luke answers simply, “The word of God came to John the son of Zechariah in the desert.” The word of God empowered him.
The gospels invite us to see ourselves and our world in the stories they tell. What can we see in this gospel?
Does Luke remind us that Jesus is more important than anyone else in this world, even ourselves? Keep before your eyes the One who is far more important, far more wise, far better than any celebrity or anyone famous. Look for the One who in the manger and on a cross. God is present and powerful there.
We are meant to bring our gifts to this world. Our time and place wait for the goodness of the gospel, and who will bring it but us? I mentioned earlier that Luke’s gospel says Jesus’ message is meant for everybody. Do we really believe that, or are we losing our belief that Jesus Christ belongs in everyone’s life?
John the Baptist in the desert seems to have nothing. But he has the word of God, a word he preached and lived. Isn’t that enough?