The good news preached by John the Baptist in today’s reading is a constant theme in Luke. In fact, the author uses the phrase twenty-five times. The news is good because it is about the Kingdom of God and the peace of Jesus Christ. Seen in this light, Advent becomes a time to reflect on our own participation in God’s kingdom and the particular ways we are striving to foster Christ’s peace.
I highly recommend reading The First Christmas: What the Gospels Really Teach about Jesus’ Birth by two renown Jesus scholars, Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan. Borg and Crossan explain how Advent, the Christmas narratives in Matthew and (particularly) Luke, and, the Kingdom of God, are bound together by this theme of good news. I’ll draw out some salient points for this reflection, but I encourage reading the book as a whole. It’s definitely worthwhile!
Borg and Crossan put forth that mainstream biblical scholarship has shown the book of Luke to be an announcement of a new kingdom and a new savior over against the kingdom of Rome and Caesar Augustus. In fact, language describing the Kingdom of God in light of Jesus’ birth stands in direct protest to that of the imperial kingdom of ancient Rome.
While ancient imperial Rome ruled in specific ways…
- through imperial power which was enforced militarily, economically, politically, and ideologically
- through imperial theology of religion emphasizing war and victory
- and through brainwashing the masses that peace was only wrought through violent victory (pp. 62-65)
…the Biblical tradition’s Kingdom of God, which was first envisioned in Daniel 7, dreams of a new eschatological Kingdom in which:
- God rules
- the earth is transformed and transfigured
- evil, injustice, violence and imperialism are put to an end
- resources are redistributed so that all have enough
- peace is brought through nonviolent justice (p. 65)
Likewise, the gospel of the peace of Jesus Christ, announced in Luke, contrasts the gospel of the peace of Caesar Augustus. The birth of Augustus came with promises of a “savior” who would bring “peace” and “good tidings,” whereas, Luke announces a different savior who would bring peace from heaven to earth (p.163). Luke’s Christmas narrative is an audacious protest against the reign of Caesar Augustus and his imperial kingdom!
At this venture, Borg and Crossan pose a compelling question to consider this Advent:
…both Roman imperial theology and early Christian theology assert the same titles for Augustus and for Jesus: Divine, Son of God, God, God from God, Lord, Redeemer, Liberator, and Savior of the World. So, when you commit your life by faith to Augustus or to Jesus, and to Caesar or to Christ as their continuations, to what–precisely–do you pledge allegiance? (p. 165)
Today’s gospel reading describes the crowd surrounding John the Baptist as “filled with expectation.” Borg and Crossan describe Advent as “expectant anticipation and repentant preparation.” The good news is that our expectation can be expressed in our commitment to work to bring about God’s Kingdom. The good news is that this is done with peace via justice, as exemplified by our Lord, the Prince of Peace.
Advent and the good news of the Kingdom of God leads me to reflect on my own efforts to foster peace within my circles of ministry: in my intentional community at The Port Ministries, at my work with Catholic Common Ground Initiative, in my marriage, and with my family and friends. Lately, I have been engrossed in learning about Nonviolent Communication (NVC), a method used to foster compassionate connection in communication. After reading Marshall Rosenberg’s book, twice now, I have been reflecting on how to implement Nonviolent Communication in each of my relationships. I have begun the process by applying NVC to my relationship with myself. This has challenged me to dig deeper within so that I might work on being my more authentic self better able to connect compassionately with those around me. I look forward to learning how to apply NVC to all of my relationships, in hopes of transforming mundane interactions into meaningful and effective conversations that lead to justice-seeking actions.
The birth of Augustus promised peace through violence, while the birth of Jesus promised peace through justice (p. 163). This Advent, let us ask ourselves who are we following? The Caesars of today who answer the world’s problems with violence? Or the one who is the good news of peace and justice? Finally, how are our lives proclaiming good tidings of great joy to all people?