To Prepare the Heart

10 December 2006: Second Sunday of Advent
Luke 3, 1-6: To prepare the heart

The emergence of John the Baptist was the point in which history turned. So Luke gave us different ways to see how it changed. First, he began with the political situation telling us the Roman governors at that time. Tiberius was the successor of Augustus, thus the 2nd of the Roman emperors. He began his reign in AD 14. So, the fifteenth year of his reign would be AD 28-29. In Palestine, we see its local governors. After Herod the Great died in AD 4, after reigning for 40 years, he divided his kingdom among his sons, who were tetrachs. A tetrach is a governor of any part of the kingdom (just imagine the governors in each province). Herod Antipas reigned from AD 4-39; therefore Jesus’ life was practically lived under him, especially Galilee. Herod Philip, AD 4-33; thus, Caesarea Philippi was built and named after him. Archelaus was not a good tetrach in Judaea, so the people petitioned his removal. Rome changed him, and made Pontius Pilate governor.

Second, Luke leads us to the religious situation at that time. In the old days, the office of the high-priest was lifetime and he acted as the religious and the civil leader of his community. Usually, there was only one high priest. But with the Romans intervening in the life of the Jews, they appointed many high priests as a result of intrigues. Remember China today: there are bishops appointed by Rome and there are Catholic bishops appointed by the government.

Luke mentions two high-priests: Annas and Caiaphas whom we will meet again at the Passion of Jesus. Annas was high priest in AD 7- 14. Thus, he was out of office at the time of Jesus’ public ministry. Caiaphas was his son-in-law. But Annas was the power behind the throne. So when Jesus was arrested, he was brought first to Annas and then to Caiaphas (John 18, 13).

How is this related to Advent. If Luke tells us of the political and religious situation during the emergence of John the Baptist so that we may see the difficulties of their lives, then the context of Advent is a people in adversity. The time of darkness before Christ. Advent is very much part of our daily lives. When priorities are lopsided: Leaders are power-hungry that they spend millions in electoral campaigns or corruptive measures to perpetuate their tenure of office, when they could instead funnel those resources to those in need. In the midst of the prevailing state of calamity, many are still apathetic. For several decades, UP was known for people who actively advocate for political, economic and cultural change; for students whose social conscience moves them to entirely give themselves to the service of their country; now the problem is more apathy and a consumerist lifestyle. Our family and personal lives get complicated and confused. When people are in transition and struggle to accept certain realities and truths in their lives, then this is the season of Advent.

In the midst of all these, the voice of John the Baptist cries out to us: “Prepare the way of the Lord!” Luke suggests that John the Baptist’s role, in the time of political and religious upheaval, was to prepare the way for Jesus. In verses 4-6, Luke quotes Isaiah 40, 3-5. When a king proposes a tour of his kingdom, the king sends emissaries or messengers to tell the leaders of the place to prepare the roads for the king is coming. And admonished everyone that the change is not about roads, but about one’s heart. But the arrival of the king is always met with joy and hope. Let me end with a story.

President Abraham Lincoln often visited hospitals to talk with wounded soldiers. Once, doctors pointed out a young soldier who was near death and Lincoln went over to his bedside.

“Is there anything I can do for you?” asked the President.

The soldier didn’t recognize Lincoln, and with some effort he was able to whisper, “Would you please write a letter to my mother?” A pen and paper were provided and the President carefully began to write down what the young man was able to say: “My dearest mother, I was badly hurt while doing my duty. I’m afraid I’m not going to recover. Don’t grieve too much for me, please. Kiss Mary and John for me. May God bless you and father.”

The soldier was too weak to continue, so Lincoln signed the letter for him and added, “Written for your son by Abraham Lincoln.”

The young man asked to see the note and was astonished when he discovered who had written it. “Are you really the President?” he asked. “Yes I am,” Lincoln replied quietly. Then he asked if there was anything else he could do.

“Would you please hold my hand?” the soldier asked. “It will help to see me through to the end.” In the hushed room, the tall, gaunt President tool the boy’s hand in his and spoke quiet words of encouragement until death came.

I think to prepare the way of the Lord is be like Abraham Lincoln. Advent and Christmas is indeed making Jesus come in our lives. To prepare the heart as John said is to be compassionate to the poor. As the dying soldier requested for Abraham’s hand, may we too may lend a hand to those in dire need. Incidentally, today is Human Rights Day.

*relief goods in UPSCA tambayan bound for Catanduanes. Relief goods were personally delivered Dec 16, Saturday by UP Catandungan.

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