A Cry in the Wilderness – December 8, 2019

by Rev. Dr. Krista S. Givens

Today we light the Advent candle for Peace, and boy, do we need it. Not only a peace that would curb the violence of our world, but also peace that would calm us individually, peace within our families, peace within our hearts, peace within our relationships. Today we light the candle for Peace.

One of the images of peace that has stood the test of time is the image from Isaiah , chapter 11 verses 6-10, The prophet writes:

The wolf shall live with the lamb,  the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them. The cow and the bear shall graze, their young shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.

What does this image mean?

When the Messiah comes, says Isaiah, peace will fall upon the land and those who are born enemies will live together in harmony, the weak shall be made strong, the strong will recognize the value of the “weak.” And a little child (the weakest human being, the one without status, without any power….) and a little child shall lead them.

As we journey through Advent, we prepare ourselves for the birth of Jesus, and our scripture lessons for today help us to understand the world into which Jesus was born.

Jesus was born during a time of Roman occupation. The Roman Government controlled those they occupied through violence and threats of violence, through heavy taxation and by the power of the emperor Caesar Augustus.

The period of “relative peace” in the Roman Empire is called the Pax Romana, which lasted from 27 BCE – 180 AD, a time in which the empire thrived, gathering land and subjects from North Africa to Britania, from Germania to Turkey, throughout – what we now know as – Europe, the Middle East and North Africa.

But peace in the empire did not mean an absence of war. The Roman government , in its growth and expansion, moved into new areas and didn’t gain land and people through peace…. They used force to take property, violence to enslave people, and war to suppress insurrections. “The Peace of Rome” – or Pax Romana – was guaranteed through the use of violence.

This is not the Peace we pray for today. This is a peace realized through the threat. It is.. “ There better be peace or ELSE!”

Roman historian Tacitus described the Pax Romana and criticized the Roman government, saying “To plunder, butcher, steal, these things they misname empire: they make a desert and call it peace.”

Caesar’s Peace is a Peace through victory, through battle, through force.

Into this system.. a child is born who will envision another kind of world – another kind of power, another kind of Peace. A Kingdom not of this world, but a Kingdom of God. A Kingdom is which the “lion and the lamb shall live together.”

And so we find ourselves in a world similar to those who waited for the Prince of Peace in ancient times. Each year we find ourselves waiting and getting ready for this new Savior and we listen to words of John, from the gosepl of Matthew, chapter 3, beginning at verse one.

In those days John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness of Judea, proclaiming, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.’ This is the one of whom the prophet Isaiah spoke when he said, ‘The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: “Prepare the way of the Lord,  make his paths straight.” ’
What do we know about John?
Parents: Zechariah and Elizabeth, birth story in Luke.
He was an ascetic living in the wilderness, clothed in camel hair and subsisting on locusts and wild honey.
He was a prophet and an agitator.
John was sentenced to death and subsequently beheaded by Herod Antipas sometime between 28 and 36 AD
John had a following of disciples who shared common practices such as fasting and prayers. John’s disciples survived his death and spread throughout the Mediterranean world. 

John is in the wilderness, the traditional place of preparation and transition. Jesus heads out into the populated world. John calls for repentance. This has less to do with feeling sadness or remorse and more to do with a total change of attitude and direction. Both John and Jesus called for radical change, not just in preparation, but because it entailed a choice that God and God’s way rules from now on. (1)

“Prepare the Way!” Cries John. “The Messiah is coming!”
And then the book of Matthew quotes the prophet Isaiah 40:3 about the messenger who will prepare the way of the Lord and make his paths straight.
Now, the image of straightening a path was clear to the people of the first century. “When a king was about to come into a land, the road-like-paths would be cleaned up and straightened in preparation for his royal majesty’s entrance. So it was at the coming of the King of the universe. The prophet would prepare for the coming of the Christ onto the earth and into our lives. The road crews of the ancient paths/roads would straighten them out and tidy them up in preparation for the coming royal king, and we are to straighten the moral/spiritual/habitual paths of our lives in preparation for our coming King.” (2)
Our King is coming! Prepare the Way!
I would like us to do a thought exercise: Let’s put ourselves in the place of the slaves of the Roman Empire who hear the cry in the wilderness: “Prepare the Way! A New King is coming!” What would they expect? What could they hope for?
A new King means a new opportunity for a different life, a BETTER life.
Now, let us put ourselves in the place of a Roman government official who hears the cry in the wilderness, “Prepare the Way! A New King is coming!” What does this mean?
A new king is a threat to the current system, the Pax Romana and the Empire itself. A new King means a new Kingdom, and the one foretold would be like none other, certainly not like Rome. The Kingdom of Jesus is a kingdom where the peace of Christ reigns and guides all of those lucky enough to be included in – as Matthew calls it – the Kingdom of Heaven.

A new king is a threat to the current system, the Pax Romana and the Empire itself. A new King means a new Kingdom, and the one foretold would be like none other, certainly not like Rome. The Kingdom of Jesus is a kingdom where the peace of Christ reigns and guides all of those lucky enough to be included in – as Matthew calls it – the Kingdom of Heaven.

Unlike the Pax Romana, The Peace of Christ is a peace based on justice, a peace based on LOVE. The Pax Christus depends not on victory, but on providing equality, freedom, prosperity, joy and love to those who have been on the outside of Roman society: the poor, the infirmed, the outcast, the lowly shepherd and the unmarried mother. For them the birth of a new Savior is GOOD NEWS.

And FOR US, the Peace of Christ is Good News, because it is found in our everyday lives in our everyday dealings with one another. Peace happens when we Iove one another and share the love of Christ with one another. Peace happens when we see the value in life – our own lives and the lives of those around us. Peace happens when we see our commonalities first before we focus on our differences. Peace happens when we love others enough to forgive them. Peace happens when we fight for the rights and happiness of those who are marginalized by society. Peace happens when we work together, putting aside our differences in order to recognize our common fate. That is the Peace Christ offers us. A Peace Beyond all Understanding.

As we celebrate the coming of the new Prince of Peace, may the love God shows
us be born again in our hearts, that we may share that love with one another, to those in God’s extended family, all around the world.

William Loader found on http://wwwstaff.murdoch.edu.au/~loader/MtAdvent2.htm
Edward F. Markquart, found on http://www.sermonsfromseattle.com/series_b_john_the_baptistGA.htm