“Each night, we secretly huddled around the radio,” she says, “eagerly hoping to receive a signal, a coded message that tells us, ‘The invasion has begun.’” An old Dutch woman remembers the dark days of Christmas 1944 as Holland awaited its day of redemption. She continues, “We scanned the skies, looking for the Allies’ planes. People walked along the dikes, hoping for some ships appearing on the horizon. We desperately prayed. People in Holland were starving. The Jews were already taken away. We asked, ‘Could we endure another year of Nazi occupation?’”
Hearing this story, what we can do is just to imagine. What would it be like to be captives and living under surveillance and oppression? How would it feel, helplessly waiting for deliverance from outside? It’s not easy for us to even imagine, because we don’t really know anything about living in captivity, because we live our lives in freedom. Right? Well…really?
For sure we are not living in such a tragic time like Nazi occupation. But I think, “captivity” comes in different forms these days. We might feel like we are free to change our lives and society whenever we make up our minds. But in reality, we still are powerless captives. We are caught in our personal struggles. There are debts and bills burdening us, illnesses and accidents devastating us, damaged relationships left unfixed, and other problems defying solutions. And we are caught in a broken social system. I feel hopeless, whenever I hear the news of gun-violence and mass-shooting. People send thoughts and prayers to the victims. Then what? Nothing changes; we hear the same news next week. What about the political divide that is getting wider and deeper? What about the growing discrimination based on our race, immigration status, gender and sexuality, and religion? Can we confidently say that we are free from those conditions of captivity? I don’t think we can. True, captivity comes in different forms these days and claims us.
To us living in this modern-day captivity, nevertheless, the good news of Advent is delivered. Like a signal, like a coded message, it tells us nothing but this, “The invasion has begun.” The wait is over. The divine intervention is about to take place. Do not lose your hope yet. God is on your way. And this Season of Advent especially tunes in its frequency to the channel of Luke’s Gospel. The Gospel of Luke transmits a clear herald, the good news about the invasion of God. And today, this good news comes through a song. It’s the song of Mary, which is traditionally called, the Magnificat.
Sung by gentle Mary, meek and mild, this song may seem like a peaceful lullaby that only comforts our fearful hearts in captivity. Sung by the holy virgin Mary, the mother of Jesus, the God-bearer (theotokos), this song may look like a praise for the divine favor exclusively given to Mary. But it’s not just a song of comfort or fortune, but a song of the good news. Listen to her song again for the first time today.
Mary begins to sing, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant” (Luke 1:46-48). Here, through her experience, Mary comes to know that this coming God is not for the powers of the world. This God is different. God has no reason to choose Mary, who is humble and lowly. But God does. Then, Mary realizes that this God is the one who is emphatically on the side of the poor, the hungry, the weak, the vulnerable, and the captives. See, she continues to sing, “He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.” (Luke 1:51-53).
Through her experience, Mary understands who God is. And she realizes that this revolutionary invasion of God has been underway. In the coming new kingdom of God, the way things are in this world will be radically transformed. Her son Jesus will inaugurate this new kingdom and announce the good news to the poor, proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, and let the oppressed go free. How magnificent is this good news, indeed. Magnificent!
Here we see, Mary’s Magnificat is neither a peaceful lullaby nor a personal praise. Rather, it’s a vigorous battle cryfor the invasion of God; it’s a passionate overture to the revolutionary ministry of Jesus Christ. Especially, to us living in the modern-day captivity, this song is an awakening prelude to the lifegiving ministry of Jesus that has put an end to our captivity. And this song is an alarm sound that wakes us up to join God’s forces and change the world with love and grace.
Today, the good news of God’s invasion has been delivered to us through the song of Mary. But one question still remains, “Can we sing with Mary today…can we?” From the bottom of our hearts? Not just from our lips but also in our action? Mary certainly received amazing grace from God. But the grace of God we have received in our lives is never less than that. God loved us while we were yet sinners. And God wants to work through us, the humble and the lowly, to turn the land of captivity into the land of milk and honey. See, we have reasons to sing the song of Mary, raise our prophetic voices, and share the good news with other captives around us. We cannot just sit back and relax; we cannot just ignore the call and enjoy happy holidays.
Thus, we sing. Sing aloud the song of Mary. Our souls magnify the Lord today and our spirits rejoice in God our Savior, for the Lord has looked with favor on the lowliness of the servants of God, for the Lord has called all of us to be comrades of God’s holy invasion. The Lord has empowered us and anointed us to liberate people from the captivity in the name of Jesus; liberate them from the bondage to sin and death with unconditional love and grace of God; liberate them from social evils by our faithful work of mercy. By our hands and feet, the Lord feeds the hungry, clothes the naked, forgives the guilty, welcomes the stranger, cares for the ill, and loves the unlovable.
Sisters and brothers in Christ, our God’s vision for Christmas is not just to transform the world on a surface level with glittering Christmas decorations. No, it’s not… God’s invasion is to transform the world from its root, from its very bottom. Let us hear clearly the good news today, “The invasion has begun!” And let us sing the magnificent song of liberation until every valley of inequity is filled and every mountain of oppression is lowered down, until all the captives are released from chains and bondages and all the flesh see the salvation of God. You, all God’s faithful servants! Prepare the way of the Lord and make his path straight! Amen.
Will Willimon, Will Willimon’s Lectionary Sermon Resource: Year C Part 1(Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2018), 27.
Today, we are celebrating the third Sunday of Advent. And there’s something special about this Sunday. Look at the Advent wreath there. What’s the color of the third candle? Yes, pink. It’s the only candle colored in pink. Do you know why? The Season of Advent leads us to penitence, to a time of preparing our hearts for the coming Jesus. But the third Sunday of Advent offers us a break from penitence and opens a time of celebrating the joy we find in Christ and his gift of salvation. That’s why the third candle, which is called the rose candle, has this festive color of joy. Also, today’s Hebrew Bible and Epistle readings are not shy about delivering joy to us. In the Hebrew Bible reading, we see the Prophet Isaiah proclaim, “With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation….Shout aloud and sing for joy, O royal Zion, for great in your midst is the Holy One of Israel” (Isaiah 12:3; 6). And in his letter to the Philippians, the Apostle Paul exhorts, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice” (Philippians 4:4). Indeed, today is the Sunday filled with joy.
But in every joyful occasion, there’s a person who crashes the party. And today John the Baptist is the one. Reading today’s Gospel story, we hear, instead of joyful tidings, the furious voice of John the Baptist casting a chill over our joy. He denounces—almost curses—the crowd with very harsh words in his days, “You brood of vipers!Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?” (Luke 3:7). Why is he so enraged at the people who come all the way to the wilderness to meet him and get baptized? They would have traveled a couple of days to get there. To this well-meaning crowd, what an outburst of anger he expresses! Something’s seriously wrong with John the Baptist. And something’s seriously wrong with the Bible readings for today. Why does the lectionary reading schedule we follow give us this particular Gospel reading today, on this joy Sunday? I couldn’t figure it out. Why is this anger in the middle of joy?
Last week, I asked this question to myself again and again. And I could find one answer: if we want to be truly joyful, there must be a certain change in us. As Christians, our ground of joy should be our faith in Jesus Christ whose grace saves us, frees us from our sins, and embraces us as the beloved children of God. So, if we want to be truly joyful, we should be faithful to Jesus, the source of our true joy, and keep away from the sins that block our relationship with him. And if we want our world to become a truly joyful place with peace and justice, there must be a certain change too. In his ministry, Jesus revealed us the kingdom of God on earth. This kingdom of jubilee brings good news to the poor, proclaims release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, and lets the oppressed go free. As the disciples of Jesus, we are called to build this joyful kingdom from within our church for the transformation of the world. Yes, we are called to make change not only in our lives but also in our world for the joy of the Lord.
But making change in our lives may not be done only by our peaceful reflection or silent meditation. Making change in our world may not be completed by a nice conversation over a cup of coffee or a series of reasonable and scholarly discussion sessions. Sometimes the real change comes with a great deal of passion and energy to truly act and do good. And this energy is often found in our feelings of anger. Yes, anger it is. We all know that anger can be dangerous and destructive when it controls us. Anger can cause hostility, aggression, and violence. But how about righteous indignation like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. had? How about fury against injustice like the martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer had? From John the Baptist, I learned that there is a certain kind of anger that we Christians must feel, that is, the anger at sins. Not only John the Baptist, but also our Jesus, who is usually meek and mild, got angry at people’s sins. And he didn’t hesitate to address them to make change. The Gospels tells us, Jesus was often enraged at his disciples, especially Peter, and at the Pharisees and the priests; and he even made a whip of cords and drove merchants out of the temple and overturned the money-changers’ tables. Such anger leads people into action, action to make change.
In today’s Gospel story, the righteous anger of John the Baptist drives the crowd to change themselves. John the Baptist warns the crowd, “Bear fruits worthy of repentance… now the ax is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire” (Luke 3:8-9). After this scary warnings, the crowd ask, “What then should we do?” Then, John the Baptist teaches them how to make change in their lives and bear actual fruits. To them, he also doesn’t forget to bring good news of Jesus Christ, “I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire” (Luke 3:16). Even though John the Baptist called the crowd the brood of vipers, now I am sure that the crowd will find true joy in their anticipation of Jesus, their true savior.
Sisters and brothers in Christ, if we want to be truly joyful with the coming Jesus Christ, we better get indignant at our personal sins and make actions to change our unfaithfulness, our hypocrisy, our unloving heart, our greed, our hard heartedness, our hatred, our self-centeredness, and so on. And if we want to build the kingdom of jubilee in our world, we better be angry at pervasive social sins around us and do something to change our society’s racial injustice, gun violence, serious economic inequality, bigotries that deepen divisions among people, and so on. In this Season of Advent, as we wait for Jesus and his kingdom on earth, “what then should we do?” Let us be righteous in our anger at sins; let us be proactive in our faithful actions to make changes; and let us keep anticipating the true joy that is coming with Jesus Christ. Amen.
Let’s say that we are time-traveling like in the movie Back to the Future. We find ourselves in a desperate situation where we have no choice but getting on a time-machine. Soon, this time-machine takes off and enters into a time loop. Suddenly, we see some spark and smoke around us. Something’s wrong. Yes, the machine is broken. What a cliché! Anyway, we have to land at a place in the unknown past. After a life-and-death landing, we finally get out of the machine and wonder how far we’ve traveled. How can we find when and where we are? I think, we would look for a newsstand and pick up a newspaper, because there we may find famous names in history and get some clues to figure out the time and the location.
The Gospel reading for today is just like this newspaper we may pick up in the past. There we can find a few famous names in history. “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…” (Luke 3:1-2). Reading only these two verses, we can get it. Yes, the unexpected destination of our time travel is the time of John the Baptist and Jesus.
Today, the Gospel of Luke invites us to travel back into a particular period of time in history. The time we are entering is when the Emperor Tiberius was the ruler of the Roman Empire. He was one of the most powerful men in the world and was literally called a son of god (Tiberius Caesar Divi Augusti filius) as the successor of the divine Augustus. But he was actually a dark, reclusive, and violent ruler and a fierce military general. This Tiberius appointed Pontius Pilate as his governor of Judea. And it was when Herod was assigned to be in charge of Galilee in Judea. Pilate watched Herod watching his own people on behalf of the Roman occupation forces. They were effective colony rulers who kept Jewish people silent and crushed any attempts of revolt.
But it wasn’t only their power that kept the Jews underfoot. They had support from the head clergy—high priests Annas and Caiaphas. They worked under Pilate to keep everything as smooth as possible up at the temple. The Romans graciously allowed the Jews to practice their religion as long as it was under the watchful eyes of Annas and Caiaphas, as long as nobody mixed religion with politics, and as long as the God of Israel is not against their son of god, Tiberius, and his mighty power represented by Pilate, assisted by Herod, and backed up by Annas and Caiaphas.[i]
With the names of these powerful men on top, any time-travelers, who made an emergency landing, can track down the exact date. However, the Gospel we are talking about today is not exactly a history book. It doesn’t only invite us to locate ourselves in a certain period of time in history. But more importantly, it also invites us to navigate ourselves across the history of the world and look at it from a different point of view, from the perspective of faith. And from this viewpoint, we all learn that true history is not something we can get by reading newspapers or something that is shaped or controlled by the powers of the world.
Today, the Gospel of Luke invites us to see history from the perspective of faith, and moreover, join that true history, God’s history. Right after the list of all the powerful names and their territories, Luke writes, “the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness” (Luke 3:2). Here Luke tells us, it was famous people like Tiberius, Pilate, and Herod who had powers to make world history. But when it came time for God to make history, God came to none of them. It’s famous people like Annas and Caiaphas who had the legitimate authority to proclaim God’s word. But when it came time for God to reveal the way of God, the word of God came to none of them. Instead, God’s word came to almost nobody, John the Baptist, son of Zechariah. And God set out the new beginning of history not from the lofty palace in Rome or the awe-inspiring temple of Herod in Jerusalem, but from the wilderness. It may not look like the most efficient and common way to make history, but we know this is God’s work of grace when we see it through our faith.
In the wilderness, the word of God is proclaimed for a new beginning of God’s history with the coming Jesus Christ and his kingdom. “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’” (Luke 3:4-6). John the Baptist proclaims, Jesus is coming and the whole world is going to change. He is going to reshape history into the history of his peaceable reign that levels out the valley of inequity and lowers down the mountain of oppression. He is going to reform history as the history of love and life that conquers the power of death. And he is going to restore the history of salvation, the history of grace for “all flesh” by his death and resurrection. Then, what? We have to repent, renew our heart and mind. Prepare the way of the Lord, and join this history of grace.
In this Season of Advent, we are invited to be time-travelers who journey across history. First of all, we are invited to visit the days of Jesus and understand his time as we wait for his birth. But above all, we are invited to look at history through the eyes of faith and take part in the true history, the history of God’s grace that is still in progress. To participate in this history, Luke suggests us to do one thing: walk into the wilderness. Well, for us, the wilderness can’t be a physical wilderness like a Palestinian desert. But we can find the wilderness in our soul, a time of solitude and a space away from our familiar routine, an environment where we cannot cover us with external things like position, honor, wealth, or power, but expose our bare and vulnerable selves before God. It can be a room in our house, a silent space at your work place, or a time on a public transportation. Let us walk into such wildernesses in our daily lives and renew our hearts and minds through sincere prayer and repentance. Then, I believe, we may hear the timeless word of God more clearly. Then, we may become able to prepare the way of the Lord and join God’s history of grace on earth.
Sisters and brothers in Christ, today, the invitation from God has been delivered through the voice of one crying out in the wilderness. And now, it is our turn to make our commitment to that invitation. Are we ready to see through the history of the world and navigate our lives with faith in our coming Lord? Are we ready to join his kingdom history and work for the transformation of the world? I hope and pray that we prepare the way of the Lord in our own wildernesses through this Season of Advent. Amen.
[i]William Willimon, Will Willimon’s Lectionary Sermon Resource, Year C Part 1(Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2018), 20.
“What time is it now?” If someone asks you this question on a street, what would you do? You would look at your watch or cell phone to tell the person the time. Right? No doubt, the time that the person asks is what your clock reads. And that’s what we usually mean by the word “time.” The ancient Greeks called this ordinary time “chronos” (χρόνος). Such time is “the numeric time” measured by the standard solar time, and it is “the linear time” that is in continued chronological progress.
But there was another Greek concept of time in contrast to chronos. It’s called “kairos” (καιρός). Unlike chronos, kairos means the qualitative time, the opportune and crucial time that breaks into the chronos time and reveals different possibilities. People in the ancient world, including early Christians, thought kairos was the divine time, the appointed time of God that interrupts our numeric and linear time. This kairos time teaches us an important theology that our ordinary chronos time is always widely open to the extraordinary possibilities of God’s time. And at any given moment in our lives, God can come, reveal God’s way, change the directions, and turn things upside down.
We can find this theology of time in the liturgical calendar we follow. Last Sunday was the “Reign of Christ” or “Christ the King” Sunday. That Sunday traditionally marked the end of a liturgical year as it provided us with a time to renew our faith in the coming of Christ with his future kingdom. And today we are celebrating the first Sunday of Advent. This Sunday marks the beginning of a new liturgical year as it leads us to the birth of Jesus. Here, we can see that a Christian year always begins with one advent of Jesus at his birth and ends with the other advent of Jesus with his coming kingdom. It means, from the beginning of time to its end, our chronos time, our numeric time, is always open to the advent, the arrival, the interruption of God’s time—the kairos time.
As human beings, we are living in this country, in the eastern time zone; but at the same time, as Christians, we are living in a different time zone, a divine time zone where only God is in control, where our lives are open to the possibilities of God, where the wind of the Holy Spirit blows where it chooses, where the voice of the wilderness changes human hearts, where we have a relationship with the one who is the Alpha and the Omega, where we find new and everlasting life through our faith. Do you believe that we are living in this special time through our faith in the one who is and who was and who is to come? Amen? Then, how would you answer to the question of “What time is it now?”
In this Season of Advent, it becomes very clear to us that now is the time of God. Now is the time when God comes for our salvation. Now is the time when God’s time interrupts our chronos time to intervene. At this very present moment, God is coming to us and God is at work. Then, what does it mean to us? It simply means there comes change, transformation. When God comes in our midst, things can’t be, and shouldn’t be the way they used be and we shouldn’t be the same. Here, change always brings two things; change comes with “anxiety” as well as with “hope.” In today’s Gospel reading, Jesus plainly tells that God’s kairos time will stir up serious anxiety among people, “There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves. People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken” (Luke 21:25-26). Yet Jesus also encourages the disciples to be hopeful, (6) “Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in a cloud’ with power and great glory. Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near” (Luke 21:27-28).
Now is the time of God. And in God’s time, it is good for us to be fairly anxious. We should feel urgent in taking actions to get ready for the coming Christ. According to the modern martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer, God’s coming is not only a matter of joyful tidings and celebrations but, first of all, “frightening news for everyone who has a conscience.” As the prophet Jeremiah proclaims, Jesus is coming to “execute justice and righteousness in the land” (Jeremiah 33:15). Because the current world is not what God wants, God is going to give us a new world through Jesus. Then, if Jesus were really coming now, what should we do? There is a sense of urgency. Are we ready to welcome him? Are we righteous and just enough to avoid his judgment? Are we willing to risk everything for redemption and for a new beginning?
Now is the time of God. And in God’s time, it is also good for us to remain hopeful. There’s a story I heard somewhere. In a Bible study meeting, a leader asked people to go around and share their favorite Bible verses. People shared famous John 3:16, 1 Corinthians 13, Psalm 23… then, a woman said that her favorite is Luke 21, today’s Gospel reading. She said, I am glad to know that Jesus will come again and burn all things down someday. She said, it’s comforting. Comforting? So weird. Isn’t it? But later, people could understand what she was saying. She had four children but three had died before the age of three from malnutrition. Yes, she hoped for the day when she will finally break free from all the suffering and embrace her children again in peace. Facing many dead ends in her life, she could remain hopeful because she knew that the Son of Man is the Lord of life and death, the beginning and the end. And this Lord will interrupt her time and bring change and transformation.
Sisters and brothers in Christ, what time is it now? Now is the time of God. Our chronos time is always open to the interruption of God’s time—the kairos time. And it is widely open to the advent of Jesus Christ and all the divine possibilities. At any given moment, God can come and transform our whole lives and the whole world. Does this news make you more anxious or more hopeful? Today, I would like you to ask this question to yourself and renew your sense of urgency in this Season of Advent. Be fairly anxious to be ready for the coming Jesus and be watchful for every sign and opening of the coming kingdom. As Jesus says, “Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life” (Luke 21:34-35). And be always hopeful for God’s interventions in our lives, for God’s work of salvation among us, because Jesus is the Lord who brings good news to the poor, proclaims release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind. Let’s be ready for him. Amen.