Salvation history is human history

Second Sunday of Advent

Baruch 5:1-9

Jerusalem, take off your robe of mourning and misery; put on the splendor of glory from God forever: wrapped in the cloak of justice from God, bear on your head the mitre that displays the glory of the eternal name. For God will show all the earth your splendor: you will be named by God forever the peace of justice, the glory of God’s worship. Up, Jerusalem! stand upon the heights; look to the east and see your children gathered from the east and the west at the word of the Holy One, rejoicing that they are remembered by God. Led away on foot by their enemies they left you: but God will bring them back to you borne aloft in glory as on royal thrones. For God has commanded that every lofty mountain be made low, and that the age-old depths and gorges be filled to level ground, that Israel may advance secure in the glory of God. The forests and every fragrant kind of tree have overshadowed Israel at God’s command; for God is leading Israel in joy by the light of his glory, with his mercy and justice for company.

Philippians 1:4-6, 8-11

Brothers and sisters: I pray always with joy in my every prayer for all of you, because of your partnership for the gospel from the first day until now. I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work in you will continue to complete it until the day of Christ Jesus. God is my witness, how I long for all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus. And this is my prayer: that your love may increase ever more and more in knowledge and every kind of perception, to discern what is of value, so that you may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ for the glory and praise of God.

Luke 3:1-6

In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was tetrarch of Galilee, and his brother Philip tetrarch of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias was tetrarch of Abilene, during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John the son of Zechariah in the desert. John went throughout the whole region of the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, as it is written in the book of the words of the prophet Isaiah: A voice of one crying out in the desert: “Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths. Every valley shall be filled and every mountain and hill shall be made low. The winding roads shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth, and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.”

One common phenomenon when reading the Bible is seeing its stories within the confinement of the biblical realm, as if they were disconnected and unrelated to the rest of our world. Luke wrote his gospel from a historical perspective – not a chronological history book with which we are familiar – but on the history of salvation. By aligning Jesus’ birth (rf Lk 2:1-2) and the emergence of John the Baptist (rf Lk 3:1-2) with the facts of the contemporary world and secular history, Luke reminds his readers that salvation history is human history (rf Lk 1:5, 2:1-2, 3:1-2, Acts 4:6, 11:28, 18:2, 12).

The introduction of John the Baptist in today’s Gospel Reading is superscribed against the backdrop of a critical time in the world history – the breaking in of God’s kingdom on earth. The time was somewhere between 27 and 29 AD, the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar (14-37 AD). Herod the Great (the enemy of the infant Jesus) was dead and his kingdom was split among his three sons – Herod Antipas, Philip and Archelaus. Herod Antipas ruled Galilee in northern Palestine and his domain included Nazareth, Capharnaum, Cana, Naim; places where Jesus spent the greatest part of His life. Philip was given a section northeast of Galilee and Archelaus governed Judea, Samaria and Idumea. Archelaus was so detestable to the Jews that they had him removed and Pontius Pilate was then appointed to govern his inheritance. Pilate would never have dreamed that by such appointment, he would later encounter Jesus in His final destiny and he himself was then made known throughout history.

Luke also casts light on the religious situation and leadership of Palestine at that time. Annas, though deposed by the Romans of his high priesthood in 15 AD, nevertheless continued to exert his influence in the supreme religious jurisdiction of Israel. He was succeeded by various members of his family but it was his son-in-law Caiaphas (high priest 18-36 AD) who played the fateful role that instigated Jesus’ death (rf Jn 11:49-50). He too, like Pontius Pilate, would not have expected himself prophesying the redemptive death of Jesus (rf Jn 11:51-52). These were the political and religious rulers of that critical period in which each of them was predestined to take part in God’s salvation plan.

Hence stories in the Bible are not merely contained in the biblical world and certainly not from myths, legends or imaginations. They were stories lived out by people in the real world wherein all were born and died much the same as we are now. Life is like a thread in a tapestry; each thread is essential for building up the whole tapestry, adding designated shade and colour to it. Each thread is placed alongside with another thread which does the same. Each is interwoven with another and supported by many others. The problem is that we often look from the back of the tapestry and thus all we see are loose ends, tangled knots and meaningless patterns. We forget that God sees all that is. He is the weaver who silently, wondrously, and orderly guides every thread with His tender hand. According to His design in the making of His grand tapestry, God will complete His work in due time. With this in mind, let us widen our lens when reading the Bible and do not dissociate its stories with our present age and the world we are in now. We are part of each other and share the same history together. We are all in one tapestry and the threads that began in the past are still continuously being woven today.

Posted: December 9, 2018

May Tam

May Tam, Bachelor of Social Science (University of Hong Kong), Master of Theological Studies (University of Toronto)

Other Sunday Reflections

To go through life's nadir at the foot of the mountain
Glimpses and tastes of glory that once exhilarated the disciples can also exhilarate us. Continue Reading >
Seeing Into the Future
Over the years, I’ve reminded you how God takes care of us in suffering, but today I’m challenging you to make it your own by doing a spiritual exercise. Continue Reading >
Lent is a Time of Grace
At the heart of Lent is an invitation to dig deeper: to reflect, review, and renew; it is, indeed, a springboard for radical transformation of our heart and mind. Continue Reading >