LUKE 1: 68-79, LUKE 3:1-6, PHILIPPIANS 1:1-11

Rev. Ron Robinson

Scripture Reading 1:  Luke 1:68-79.  The first reading below comes from Luke 1. In this passage, I like our Advent focus on John the Baptist. Like the Advent focus on Mary who often gets slighted in Protestantism, it is good to have a time of year to focus on the Baptist's own "backstory", and here the backstory, just like it is with Luke 4 and Jesus' mission statement from Isaiah, is about the fulfillment of the original covenant through the Messiah, about the righteousness of the Israel communities even at a time of decimation and conflict in the Roman Empire. Lifting up Abraham, as a model here, as Paul does in Romans, as a unifying figure for Gentiles and Jews is a good way of showing that although the covenant fulfillment is particularly part of the Hebrew history it is now universalized. And the Baptist's call to wait on the Messiah and prepare the way for the Messiah at the same time is a good lesson for the waiting season of Advent, and a good reminder for all who are disciples of the Jesus way, the way of peace, today.

68 “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has looked favorably on his people and redeemed them. 69He has raised up a mighty savior for us in the house of his servant David, 70as he spoke through the mouth of his holy prophets from of old, 71that we would be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us. 72Thus he has shown the mercy promised to our ancestors, and has remembered his holy covenant, 73the oath that he swore to our ancestor Abraham, to grant us 74that we, being rescued from the hands of our enemies, might serve him without fear, 75in holiness and righteousness before him all our days. 76And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways, 77to give knowledge of salvation to his people by the forgiveness of their sins. 78By the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high will break upon us, 79to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.” 

Scripture Reading 2:  Luke 3:1-6.  The second reading is a favorite of mine; it is one that biblical scholar John Dominic Crossan has pointed out too for how it sets out and highlights the overwhelming presence and power of the Roman Empire in creating the kind of values and world against which the Israelis and Jesus and the Jesus followers created their communities. The focus in that context on John the Baptist again puts in contrast his rebellious freedom agitator ministry. And Luke's love of Isaiah resonates with the Advent and Christmas message of liberation for the oppressed, and the hope, the ever waiting hope, for the righting of the world. It reminds us of the connection with another of the Advent scriptural passages, the Magnificat or Song of Mary in this regard of justice and equality. It is a good focus on our Advent personal reflections and discernment. 

3 In the fifteenth year of the reign of Emperor Tiberius, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was ruler of Galilee, and his brother Philip ruler of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias ruler of Abilene, 2during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness. 3He went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, 4as it is written in the book of the words of the prophet Isaiah, “The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. 5Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth; 6and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.’” 

Scripture Reading 3: Philippians 1:1-11.  The third reading comes from the great prison letter by Paul, when he faced a very real possibility of execution. It is a section about longing to be with them, about finding freedom in Christ despite life in jail, and so it has an edge to its use in Advent; as we wait with those looking toward the birth of Jesus and the first coming, Paul is also living in the confidence and looking forward and waiting for Christ's return to bring about the social righting of the whole earth. And despite his circumstances he is full of thanksgiving and holds out the peace of Jesus as compared with the peace of Rome. We wait, yes, but we also live in Christ at the same time, as we are part of the community whose life itself is lived in liberation and peace and love. 

1 Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus, To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi, with the bishops and deacons: 2Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. 

3 I thank my God every time I remember you, 4constantly praying with joy in every one of my prayers for all of you, 5because of your sharing in the gospel from the first day until now. 6I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work among you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ. 

7 It is right for me to think this way about all of you, because you hold me in your heart, for all of you share in God’s grace with me, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel. 8For God is my witness, how I long for all of you with the compassion of Christ Jesus. 

9 And this is my prayer, that your love may overflow more and more with knowledge and full insight 10to help you to determine what is best, so that in the day of Christ you may be pure and blameless, 11having produced the harvest of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ for the glory and praise of God. 

Prayer: O God who brings Advent into our lives, creating a sense of expectancy and adventure these weeks ahead, be with all those who come to sojourn among us here at the UUCF and through our many ways; wherever this season finds them, in whatever circumstances, may they know what a blessing they are to all of us, may these words of wisdom find favor in your sight and bring hope and renewed meaning to the lives of all who encounter them. May this season give birth to peace, joy, love and hope through all we do here in the UUCF, and may we help make Jesus visible in the world through all those who are a part of us. Gratitude, service, compassion, justice, may all of these guide us as we seek to be better followers of you especially in this holy season. In Christ, Amen

December 6, 2009