Sermon for Advent 2

Dates: December 2nd and 5th

Preacher: Pastor Ashley Rosa-Ruggieri

First Reading: Malachi 3:1-4

Psalmody: Luke 1:68-79

Second Reading: Philippians 1:3-11

Gospel: Luke 3:1-6


In the first year of the presidency of Joe Biden, when Mike DeWine was governor of Ohio, and Kathy Huner was mayor of Wauseon, and during the pastorship of Ashley Rosa-Ruggieri, a sermon was preached at Trinity Lutheran church in Sunday morning worship. Can you imagine if every story you read or speech or sermon you heard started like this? It seems like a lot of information, that does not necessarily have to be said in order for what follows to make sense. At yet, Luke begins the third chapter of his Gospel by listing all of these leaders, as a way of clearly setting the context. He does not want there to be any confusion about when these things could have taken place. To do this he mentions not only religious leaders, but political and economic ones as well. Luke lays down all of this information right from the beginning so that the setting of the story to follow is so set, there is no chance someone could misconstrue the details of the events of Jesus. However, the thing is, this passage is not about Jesus, at least not when we get specific. As I mentioned last week, as we go through the season of Advent, we start toward the end of the Gospel and then eventually work back to the beginning, and to the story of Jesus's birth. And so although Advent is a time of preparation for Jesus, this often means we get a few different passages that focus on John the Baptist in the Sundays that lead up to Christmas.

And so, Luke lays out all of this detail to start this chapter of the Gospel not because it begins with the story of Jesus, but because it begins with a story of the first to prepare the way for Jesus's story to be told. The passage tells us that in the midst of all these societal leaders, the call of God is sent to John the Baptist in the Wilderness. After hearing this call, John goes to the surrounding regions, that are ruled by the very names first listed in this chapter, and proclaims to all about baptism and the forgiveness of sins. Amid the powerful emperors, governors, rulers, high priests and other high-profile individuals that were making proclamations in the regions around Jordan, we listen to the words of John the Baptist and the message about preparing the way for the Lord who is to come. Luke then pulls in passages from the Hebrew scriptures and quotes the words of Isaiah to show that the voice crying out in the wilderness is the voice of John who received his call from God in the midst of that very wilderness.

So that sets the scene. The passage makes the reader very settled, makes sure there are no surprises about the when and the who in the first half of these verses, because then the second half promises that all of this will be unsettled by the preparation of the Lord. In our reading from Malachi this week we hear about the refining and purifying that comes from the mouths of the prophets as we prepare the way of the Lord. Because historically, prophets have been disliked by many, if not most people in their society. Especially by those who have power, such as the names we are given at the start of our Gospel today. The words of prophets are meant to signal a warning, a preparation, a call to change or reform something. And so in our Malachi reading when the words of the prophet are compared to the fire of refining or purifying jewels and metals, we would do well to remember that the words of prophets are not meant to be comforting. They are meant to enact change. In this case, they are meant to shine light on the changes happening in preparation for the Lord. Think of these words as the first chance of illumination for the advent of Jesus. The first candles signaling the coming time of preparation.

This refining imagery is not limited to our reading from Malachi, but also comes out in our Gospel reading, through the quote from Isaiah. By saying that this voice in the wilderness cried out:

Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight.
Every 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;
and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.’ ”

Pick out the formation language in these words. Valleys are filled, mountains are made low, crooked shall be made straight, rough will be smooth, and all flesh shall see the salvation of God. These images show us the contrast of what was vs what is to come. They show us the difference between what we know and what will be as we prepare for the Lord. A filled valley and a low mountain give us no context because that is not how those things are in our lives. The point of these declarations lead to that last sentence, that all flesh shall see the salvation of God.

All the other examples showed what is now and what will be after this preparation and refining, but this final statement only shows us what will be, we have to put in its counterpart. We have to supply what we understand now. So let us consider that the word for salvation here in Greek relates to the idea of preservation, of safety. In this case, perhaps all flesh seeing the salvation of God means that those who do not currently have safety in their lives will finally know the peace that comes from feeling settled. Because when we have a Gospel passage that starts with naming the people who have power and therefore have safety in their own lives and the ability to be settled, and then we have words from a prophet that tell us that some day all flesh shall see the salvation of God, then Luke is paying attention to those who do not have that safety and security now, and therefore they do not currently see the salvation of God.

All of this is still relevant today. There are still those in our society who have power and safety, and those who are merely holding on amid systems that work to oppress, marginalize, and unsettle those who do not have the safety that power provides. And so, in this season of Advent, as we prepare the way of the Lord by following the words of prophets like John the Baptist and Isaiah, we are then called to take part in this refining. We comfort, accompany and advocate for the unsettled among us, and we proclaim to the world as the prophets did about the coming changes, all in preparation for the way of the Lord. So that one day, all flesh shall see the salvation, the safety, the peace of God. Thanks be to God.