In the fifteenth year of the rule of the emperor Tiberius—when Pontius Pilate was governor over Judea and Herod was ruler over Galilee, his brother Philip was rulerover Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias was ruler over Abilene, during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas—God’s word came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness. John went throughout the region of the Jordan River, calling for people to be baptized to show that they were changing their hearts and lives and wanted God to forgive their sins. This is just as it was written in the scroll of the words of Isaiah the prophet,
A voice crying out in the wilderness:
“Prepare the way for the Lord;
make his paths straight.
Every valley will be filled,
and every mountain and hill will be leveled.
The crooked will be made straight
and the rough places made smooth.
All humanity will see God’s salvation.”
Luke 3:1-6 [CEB]
With clarity, Luke pinpoints the time into which John the Baptist and Jesus were born. For the Jews, it was not a great time. Under forced occupation. Worshipping in a temple built by an egomaniac, they allowed power and dollars to take over the renovations of the Temple. It was about prestige. Not about holiness. It was about leaving behind a legacy with one’s permanent stamp of prestige over personal growth. (That’s not a commentary on church building programs and those with deep pockets and generous spirits! I swear!)
The point is that this Temple, built with pomp and flair was not “the” place to be. Those who thought they were powerful in politics (Tiberius, Pontius Pilate, Herod, Philip and Lysanias) and even the Jewish religious leaders (Annas and Caiaphas) were not so important after all. Instead, God showed the Holy Spirit’s power in the desert. God used a simple man named John, a man calling for repentance, as he wandered the Jordan River valley. People were baptized as a demonstration of their desire to be changed, to be renewed and to be forgiven.
A mere prophet, giving words from God? Demanding they turn from their well-established paths of power? That made no sense! It could be as incomprehensible to people in our government today — federal, state or local — it would not matter. Could they listen and hear the words of John, inviting them to move past their tightly held fiefdoms and to lay themselves out before God’s judgment, mercy and forgiveness? To lay aside comfort and dominance and self-aggrandizement?
In our fractured society, with a “fiscal cliff” just beyond the horizon, it seems unlikely. Yet God can and does do anything to change our hearts and minds.
So may it be…