The City and the Desert: a faux homily for the second Sunday of Advent

A reading from the holy Gospel according to Luke. 

Glory to you, O Lord. 

In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was tetrarch of Galilee, and his brother Philip tetrarch of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias was tetrarch of Abilene, during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John the son of Zechariah in the desert.

John went throughout the whole region of the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, as it is written in the book of the words of the prophet Isaiah:

A voice of one crying out in the desert:

“Prepare the way of the Lord,

make straight his paths.

Every valley shall be filled

and every mountain and hill shall be made low.

The winding roads shall be made straight,

and the rough ways made smooth,

and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.”

The Gospel of the Lord.

Praise to you Lord Jesus Christ.

Who can tell me who was the tetrarch of Abilene at the time of Jesus Christ. You know, Abilene? The prettiest town that I’ve ever seen? (HOLD FOR LAUGHS.) 

Okay, how about the tetrarch of Trachonitis? 

Not popular enough? Okay, I’ll do an easy one. Who was the Caesar at the time? (Hopefully someone gets this.) Tiberius! Right. Captain Kirk’s middle name. 

Maybe history isn’t your strong suit. So let’s move to the present. Who is the President of the United States? Who is the Pope? Good, you know those. Bishop of Steubenville? Governor of Ohio? 

Today’s gospel begins with a list of the most popular and powerful people of that time. Tiberius was the emperor of the Roman empire. Pilate was his governor in Judea. Herod, Philip and Lysanias made up a tetrarchy, which means three kings. These are the three sons of King Herod “the great”, the same Herod who slaughtered the children of Bethlehem when Jesus was born. And then you’ve got the high priests: Annas and Caiaphas, the most powerful religious leaders of that time. 

An emperor, a governor, kings, and high priests. Quite a list! If CNN and Fox News was around at that time, these are the people who would be making headlines. These are the faces that would pop up on your news feed. These are the ones who were making a “difference” in the world. 

And yet, “the word of God came to John the son of Zechariah in the desert.”

John was a nobody in the world’s eyes. He wasn’t royalty or nobility. He had no political connections. And Scripture tells us he was in the desert. There is nothing in the desert. There is no reason to go there. You can’t make money there. You can’t have power there. You can’t grow in prestige there. It is difficult in the desert. And, quite frankly, it is boring, especially compared to the activity in a major city.

And “the word of God came to John the son of Zechariah in the desert.”

Today is December 9th. Many of us are in a hurry to prepare for Christmas by making travel plans, sending out Christmas cards, and trying to get the best deals at the store. I don’t know about you, but my inbox is filled everyday with “one day only!” sales. 

To the world, today is known as “fifteen more shopping days until Christmas”. But for us, it is the second Sunday of Advent. Our preparation for Christmas should be different than the world’s. The world rushes to the cities for the glamor and the glitz, everyone trying to be like those who are popular or in power. 

But “the word of God came to John the son of Zechariah in the desert.”

How are you preparing for Christmas in this Advent season? Take time today to go into the desert. I don’t know what that means for you, and I’d encourage you to bring this before the Lord today as we celebrate the Eucharist. Maybe it isn’t shopping today. Perhaps not going on social media. It might be sitting quietly and reading some Scripture. We heard today from the Letter to the Philippians, which is also known as the “letter of joy”. It is only four chapters long. Read it like you’d read a Christmas letter from a friend. 

I don’t know what your desert is, but I can tell you the word of God won’t come to you or me amid the busyness. We have to “prepare the way”. 

It is hard to take a break from the world because we’re afraid of what we might miss. Well, I can tell you, you won’t miss any sales. They will be there tomorrow. You won’t miss any stories, the internet will keep repeating them. But if we don’t go into the desert, we might miss the Word of God. We might miss what this season is all about. 

And that would be the greatest loss of all.