The Gospel lesson for today reads, “In the fifteenth year of Emperor Tiberias, when Pilate was governor of Judea.” You remember Pilate, he was the one who had Jesus crucified. “And Herod was governor of Galilee.” You might remember Herod too. He was the one who had John the Baptist beheaded in the midst of an icky court intrigue.
So we know where this is going. God’s work is opposed by people who perceive it to be a threat to their power. Nevertheless, “When Annas and Ciaphas were high priest, the word of God,” In Greek, that’s the herma, the matter, the reality of God “happened to John the Baptist in the wilderness, and he went into all the region around the Jordon, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins,” In other words, “get right with God because God’s emissary is coming.” “as was 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.’”
All of this date-setting, who was ruling and over what region, is a carful reminder that God does not work just in wise maxims and insightful observations on how to live well. God works in specific times and particular places, in this real world.
So, last week I was privileged to be asked by one of you to come to a man’s bedside. I’ll call him Joe. He was the father of a friend of yours. Joe had one eye closed most of the time, the other didn’t see too well. He couldn’t speak or think very clearly. He was dying. But I held his hand. Actually, you all held his hand, because what we do around here we do as a team. None of this could happen without you. The time you spend here, the money you give, the work you do, the prayers you pray for this place, the attitude which you choose to take here, all of those things prepare the way of the Lord, all of those things make moments like this possible.
So you were there. We prayed with Joe, that God would be with him and carry him through this time, that Jesus would forgive his sins and bring him to eternal life. Before long he wasn’t just holding my hand any more. He had wrapped his arm around mine and he held my fist. I said the Twenty Third Psalm—Yea though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I shall fear no evil. For you are with me. . .”
We sang Amazing Grace. Actually, I sang Amazing Grace.. But he recognized the tune. He kind of made some noises in that direction.
And Christ was there. Christ had come.
In other words, In the second year of the presidency of Donald Trump in the United States, when Matt Bevin was governor of Kentucky and Greg Fischer was mayor of Louisville, the word of the Lord, the reality of God happened among the people of St. John Lutheran Church. And they proclaimed a baptism of the Holy Spirit, where you did not so much get right with God, but rather God comes to us, and God’s holy Spirit sweeps us up into God’s healing and hope, and makes us, broken and fallen sinners as we are, nevertheless into emissaries of the light, agents of heaven’s change.
This is how God works. In this time, in this place, right now, through us, to prepare Christ’s way. Thanks be to God.