Luke 3: 1-6
In the fifteenth year of the rule of Caesar Tiberius—it was while Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea; Herod, ruler of Galilee; his brother Philip, ruler of Iturea and Trachonitis; Lysanias, ruler of Abilene; during the Chief-Priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas—John, Zachariah’s son, out in the desert at the time, received a message from God. He went all through the country around the Jordan River preaching a baptism of life-change leading to forgiveness of sins, as described in the words of Isaiah the prophet:
Thunder in the desert!
“Prepare God’s arrival!
Make the road smooth and straight!
Every ditch will be filled in,
Every bump smoothed out,
The detours straightened out,
All the ruts paved over.
Everyone will be there to see
The parade of God’s salvation.”
One of the great characters of the Advent season is John the Baptist, the prophet who prepared the way for Jesus. Later in this gospel Jesus will say: ‘Of all the children born of women there is no one greater than John, yet the least in the kingdom of God is greater than he is.’(Luke 7:28) John is truly a great man, but what Jesus will bring will be greater. Our gospel reading this Sunday is from the third chapter of Luke’s gospel. Luke has already given an account of John’s birth earlier in the gospel. Now Luke introduces the adult John and describes his ministry.
Luke provides an extraordinarily detailed list of the public officials who were in office when John and Jesus began their work. The names of Pontius Pilate and of Herod the tetrarch are easily recognised here. Luke demonstrates that John the Baptist and Jesus enter into the real world of history, a world in which power and position dominate events.
John’s work is to travel around the region near the Jordan river, proclaiming ‘a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins’. With his baptism John challenges the people to a new start, a change of heart, and to seek the forgiveness of God. If they respond, they will be ready to welcome the Messiah.
At the end of this gospel passage the evangelist gives a lengthy quotation from the book of Isaiah, which Christians consider to have been fulfilled in the coming of the Messiah. We have come to identify the voice in the wilderness with the voice of John. The whole of creation is described as getting ready for the coming of the Lord. Finally, ‘all mankind shall see the salvation of God’. Luke makes clear that the Messiah comes to offer salvation to all nations.