Hanging Of The Greens
Luke knows how easy it might be for the story he is about to tell to lose its anchor in history. These stories of gods and human beings can so easily become fairy tales and myths—stories that have lost their connections to time and history. Luke reminds us over and over of the historical context of his story. "In the fifteen year of the reign of Tiberius, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was the ruler of Galilee; and Herod's brother Philip was ruling Iturea and Trachonitis and Lysanias was in control of Abilene. The years that Anna and Caiaphas were the high priests of Jerusalem.” Luke wants his story to have strong ties with history. Luke suggests that the story I am about to tell happened in a particular time in history. "Once upon a time" will not do here. This was during the reign of Tiberius.
A particular person named John, the son of Zechariah, was living in the desert, and John went up and down the river banks telling people "Repent and Be baptized. Your sins are as scarlet, but you can be forgiven. The words of Isaiah are about to happen: a great transformation and dramatic changes are about to happen. The crooked will be made straight. The valleys filled and the mountains leveled. The glory of God will be seen in the land of the living.
Those are important words to hear as we prepare in Advent. This story we are telling is linked to time and space with dates and people. This story we are telling has some harsh words to those who hear it. The coming of the glory of God comes in specific times and comes with sharp and piercing words.
Luke sets these words down early and hard because he knows how much we want things to be pretty and nice. He knows how easily a group of people can sit down to talk about specific problems and in a few minutes have a long list of idealistic, perfect suggestions for everybody else to do. He knows how eager we all are to make things happy and nice. We would like to be Pollyanna. We want to bring out the joy, share peace, create brotherhood. It is so easy for us all to agree with Rodney King, "Why can't we all just get along?"
We want things nice and pleasant. "You can't do mediocre food and get people to come to church dinners," Says Gary Dietz, the director of Seniorhigh ministry at St. Stephen's Episcopal Church in Edina, Minnesota. If you want people to come to church programs, you have to feed them gourmet meals. Gary and Kate Steider, who minister to children and juniorhigh youth, prepare parish dinners, dessert nights, gourmet Saturday night dinners, newcomers dinners and Senior high breakfasts. They say that youth won't come for average meals. They have two secrets: lots of garlic and don't overcook the food and make it hard.”1
We want it tasty and soft—pretty and easy. We want it warm and fuzzy. Luke says it was in a particular time and John says it comes with some pretty dramatic wrenching of the world. He knew us pretty well, that is why by the time of his death, fashion designer Gianni Versace had a business worth $800 million dollars and owned four lavish residences. Before his death a writer asker Versace if he was a religious person. Versace said, "Yes, I believe in God, but I'm not the kind of religious person who goes to church, who believes in the fairy tale of Jesus, born in the stable with the donkey. That, no—I'm not stupid. I can't believe that God, with all the power that he has, had to have himself born in a stable, No, I do not believe that—that would not have been comfortable."
A man who made his fortune knowing how much we like the touch of silk, and the feel of fabric, and to rub our faces on the furs, and to sleep in our own beds and to have the familiar comfortable shapes of an old sweater, if we like that much comfort, he could not believe that God would have put himself to such discomfort and inconvenience as to be born a baby in a stable in straw.
Luke says it was at a certain time in a certain place this story happened, and John tells us we had better get ready for it because indeed, while it may not be comfortable, there will be a lot of displacement and disruption when the crooked is made straight and the valleys raised, our sins are redeemed, our lives made new. It will not be comfortable, but it will be redemptive.
First Presbyterian Church
1Jolene Roelkepartain, The Christian Ministry, "Brief Encounters," NovDec. 1997, p. 4