In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar—when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, Herod tetrarch of Galilee, his brother Philip tetrarch of Iturea and Traconitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene— during the high-priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness. He went into all the country around the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. As it is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet:
“A voice of one calling in the wilderness,
‘Prepare the way for the Lord,
make straight paths for him.
Every valley shall be filled in,
every mountain and hill made low.
The crooked roads shall become straight,
the rough ways smooth.
And all people will see God’s salvation.’”
Advent is a time in a sense of preparing the way for the Lord. It’s a time, not only of waiting in an antipatory “hope,” but of preparing one’s heart and life for the coming of the Lord. And the preparation consists largely in repentance, which means a complete change of thought and life. Certainly repentance from our individual sins in confessing and leaving them behind as we go on a new path, but also repentance from our way of thinking as to what life is all about, the good life, and what in our estimation God’s kingdom should look like. The latter was the big issue during Jesus’ time. God’s people were divided as to how that kingdom was to come. Though most of them would not have been opposed to John the Baptist’s message and means in principle. But none of them anticipated how it would come, what it would look like, or the kind of impact it would have. John himself even struggled over this later, when he was put in prison and not released.
And so there is a necessary preparation of repentance before the peace promised as in shalom, not just the absence of conflict and war which one might say is a good start, but a human flourishing, in fact what ends up being the flourishing of all creation in the new creation in Jesus. And as Father Michael Cupp said, this is not merely a geopolitical peace. In some respects the people of Israel during Jesus’ time knew such a peace already, under the iron thumb and control of Rome. No, it’s a peace which changes people outside in and inside out, and changes systems as well. In and through King Jesus and his redemptive work. And however rudimentary that beginning might appear, at root now in the church in and through Jesus. Ultimately to fill the world in every way, shape and form, including the geopolitical. Confined to the church for now, though spilling out into the world through the love of God in Jesus in good works. As well as an example to nations of what real peace actually is. A peace which can be fully realized in some sense beginning now, only in King Jesus and in the fellowship of God’s kingdom come in him in the church.
Preparation in repentance, submitting to God’s will and way in Jesus. Bringing the peace that the world needs. Beginning now, in and through Jesus and his body, the church. And in anticipation of the great change to come when King Jesus returns.