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. He went into all the region around 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, “The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘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.’”
Most scholars would agree that to try and pinpoint a date based on the list of power players that make up the first lines of this gospel passage is complicated. I will not go into the details here, I simply want to note that all these dates don’t quite line up.
That makes me wonder if the who’s who is included here for the purposes of locating Jesus in time? Could there be another reason. Is this a biographical device or is there a deeper purpose for all these names?
The complexities of dating aside, the opening verse has a powerful irony to it.
Allow me to paraphrase: “ Despite Tiberius being Emperor of Rome, Pontius Pilate, Herod, Phillip and Lysanius being provincial governors, and despite Annas and Caiaphas being the high priests, God chose to speak to a nobody named John living in the desert.”
To have lived for over five decades on the planet means that I, like many of you, will have witnessed the parade of powerful, professional, pontifical people pass into obscurity. They have held the headlines, transformed the tabloids been called news makers. The question I ask myself is, “Have they received and shared the word of God?”. My answer is, “Seldom.” The same would be true for preachers and pastors who have paraded themselves in the same arenas, as did Annas and Caiaphas. Seldom does the word of God enter history through the flashy and powerful religious industry.
Once I realised the irony of this passage, I could more clearly see the impact of John as the fore-runner for the Incarnation.
The God who is going to appear as a vulnerable baby in a stable, doesn’t need the validation of a palace or a priest for that matter.
Come to think of it, in the same five decades I have been alive, the word of God has come to me through the people whom history would not remember, and whom editors would deem to be “not newsworthy”.
Grandmothers and God mothers, friends and family, workers and wild people. People like John. Wilderness voices. They receive the truth of God and transmit it.
So instead of expecting the word of God to come on CNN or even in church, this advent I am going to attend to the little people in the daily conversations.
In the lines at the mall, the burbles of the coffee shop and maybe even the person who shares my roof is where I think the word of God may be whispering.