A Lectionary Reflection on Luke 3:1-6 for Advent 2C
“No one would doubt that if Jesus came into this room and touched you, you would be healed. So, why doubt that if God’s Word touches you, you will be healed? God and God’s Word are one, they’re the same…”
These words (or something like them) were spoken on a recording by a very well-known worship leader and musician some years ago. When I first heard it, I was startled and shocked, and I wished that he had thought through the implications of his statement. When he referred to God’s Word, he clearly meant the Bible, since he continued by quoting a few verses, and then encouraged people to allow this “word” to touch and heal them. It is an easy trap to fall into – seeing the words in the Bible, and the Word of God as one and the same thing – but it’s a dangerous thing to believe.
In this week’s Gospel we read that “God’s word came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness”. This simple statement raises all sorts of questions, but here are at least three things that we can glean from it (with a little help from John’s Gospel – recognising, of course that when Luke was being written, John was not yet in existence).
Firstly, the phrase, “The word of God came to…” is a common one from the Old Testament. By using this phrase with respect to John, Luke is placing him firmly in the line of the Old Testament prophets. But, what is significant here is that the line of prophets had been silent for hundreds of years. But, now, the prophets were speaking again. In the quotation from Isaiah, John is clearly identified not just with the line of the prophets, but also with the fulfilment of their prophecies. In this new word it was clear that God was doing something new. A new order, predicted by the prophets of old, was now coming into being, and John, the last in the prophets’ line, was hailing its advent.
Secondly, this passage lists a number of important and powerful people – the emperor, the governor, the kings, the priests. If anything significant was to be announced, one would have expected it to come through one of them. But, instead, it is to an unknown, essentially homeless, man in the wilderness that God’s word comes. If there were any doubt about the radical difference between God’s new order and the existing systems of power and wealth in the world, this simple statement removes it. For the writer of Luke the implication is clear – the Reign of God is to be found in the unexpected, the surprising, the dismissed, the marginalised.
Finally, as John’s preaching continued, he pointed past himself to another one who would come. This one, said John, would baptise the people not with water, but with fire and the Holy Spirit. No longer would it just be God’s word coming to certain chosen messengers. Now, it would be God who would come and the coming would be to all people. In John’s Gospel this same message is expressed rather poetically: with John, the word of God came; with Jesus, the word of God became human. Now it was not a word that would be received, but The Word embodied in a human person.
Advent is a season of prophecy. In the next few weeks we will be listening to the word of God as it came to the prophets, culminating in John. Throughout the Christmas story we will hear the prophets quoted again and again. But, in all of these words, there is a truth we must remember: we are not waiting for words – spoken or written. What we believe and give our lives for is not what is written in a book, however inspired. We are waiting for a Person – the incarnate Word of God. The prophecies and the Scriptures are just the sign posts that point to this Word who became flesh for us.
But, if we are to take this Jesus, this Word of God, seriously, we will need to recognise that our ability to receive him is connected with our willingness to change. As long as we remain committed to the status quo, as long as we try to make this season about self-help, self-healing or self-satisfaction, we will not be able to recognise God’s Word when he comes to us. We need to be prepared for the incarnation because what it asks of us is difficult and dangerous – a commitment to a new order, a new set of values, attitudes and ways of being. That’s why we need Advent and the word it brings. That why we need to meditate on John’s message before we can truly grasp the significance of Christ’s birth. But, if we will turn our hearts and minds to the margins of our world, if we can let go of our need for power, wealth and status in our quest for protection and security, we will discover not just the message of God, but the very Being of God incarnated again and again in human flesh.