Wednesday Word: The Word of God Comes to Who??
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, during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness. -- Luke 3:1-2
This was the opening sentence to our gospel this past Sunday. Every Monday morning I meet with a few other clergy in the area to discuss the upcoming readings (primarily the gospel), and this gospel was our primary point of discussion.
I don't know how many times over the years I've heard or read this passage, but I have always seen it as a time stamp. Out of the four Evangelists, Luke was the historian. He opens his version of the gospel by writing, “Since many have undertaken to set down an orderly account of the events that have been fulfilled among us . . .” So it makes perfect sense, in a time when records were kept based on what year of whose reign, to hear Luke the historian state that John's ministry began “In the fifteenth year of the reign of Emperor Tiberius, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea . . .”
One of the beauties of studying scripture with other people is hearing different insights you may not have heard before. One of my colleagues wondered if these two verses were simply a time stamp, and I asked him what he meant by that.
“Look at the names . . . the emperor, the governor, two rulers, and two high priests. Powerful people. And yet, the word of God came to JOHN in the wilderness.”
This would be like us today saying, “In the second year of Joe Biden's presidency, when Lawrence was governor of Maryland, and Emily was mayor of Hagerstown, during the episcopate of Eugene, and Michael was presiding bishop, the word of God came to Bob.”
Maybe these two verses are not simply a time stamp. Maybe these two verses are to remind us that the word of God doesn't necessarily come to those in power and those with authority, but that the word of God comes to the least expected. Maybe this is a reminder that the word of God is not tied up with the powers and principalities of this world, but that the word of God is to be found elsewhere.
That's not to say that powerful people are immune to hearing the word of God. It's not to say that ecclesiastical authorities are unable to hear the word of God. But it does point out that the word of God comes to unexpected people in unexpected places. More importantly, these two verses reiterate that the power of God is not dependent on (and in most cases is utterly opposed to) the powers of the world.
As we move through the wilderness of Advent and prepare for the coming of the Messiah, how are you hearing the word of God? As we move through the wilderness of Advent and prepare for the coming of the Messiah, how are you proclaiming the coming of the good news to those around you?
Because in the end, God does not rely on emperors, rulers, and others who wield earthly power; God relies on people like you and me to proclaim that the kingdom of God has come near.