2nd Sunday of Advent

December 10, 2000
See Also: 
Reading 3: 
Phillippians 1:3-11
Reading 4: 
Luke 3:1-6
By Rick Marshall

Luke 3:1-6
We gather hints from the synoptic gospels and from the Gospel of John that some followers of John the Baptist might have been claiming him as the Messiah. There seems to have been serious confusion over who the Messiah was: Jesus or John the Baptist. The narrative goes to great pains in placing the characters in the right position in the story. The question is settled by the story: John says, "I am not the Christ. " The claim is made that Jesus is the Christ. Not John, but Jesus. Behind the debate is the effort to correctly name, not only who the Christ is, but what the Christ is like. Who and What is the Christ?

All of this care in correctly naming the Christ is crucial in the formation of the character "Jesus of Nazareth" as the Christ. The "John the Baptist" character is cast in the prophetic mode. His message, his appearance suggesting Elijah, his call to repentance, are all in preparation for something new. The Messiah is coming; prepare! But what was up for debate was what kind of character is the Messiah. Is he going to be like King David and reclaim the throne, or is he going to be something else? The gospel narratives focus on this something else. The character of Jesus as the Christ goes against conventional expectations, at great cost to him. The claim is made that the Christ was from the beginning, has been, and still is, the creative power behind the world, and will continue to transform life, bringing life out of death. That is the Christ! And it is important to correctly name that power as Christ and to connect that power to Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus embodies and point to that power and manifests that power in his own life and teachings, but especially in his death and resurrection.

Philippians 1:3-11
This opening passage expresses a sense of full participation in the ongoing creative process of God. Words such as "partnership" and "partakers," along with the idea of the good work begun in the first readers of this letter, which will continue, all suggest a continuing participation in the creative process of God's power.

Preaching the texts
Both passages lend themselves to Process ideas. If Christ is the creative, transforming power of God, then naming that power correctly in absolutely crucial in understanding who God as One worthy of worship. By understanding the character "Jesus Christ" in the way the narrative explains him, we can understand something important about the nature of the power of God.

The preacher could focus on the idea of naming the power of Christ correctly. Other forms of power have been named as the Messiah. During the time of Jesus, Messiah meant a king very much like David, which embodies a certain kind of power. The preacher could easily line up all the most important candidates for other things we look to as ultimate: kingly oppressive power (Caesar), greed (consumerism), the pleasure principle, etc. The focus could be on what most people effectively take as their ultimate concern. Sorting out what is properly the ultimate concern, that is, Christ, and correctly naming that power as worthy of worship and trust and loyalty could be the goal of the sermon.

There is only one form of power that can correctly be named Christ, and that power is persuasive power, it is the power of creative transformation. And this power is embodied by the teachings and the life and death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth.

Rick Marshall is co-pastor of Brea Congregational United Church of Christ in Brea, California, a church he has served for more than 24 years. He has contributed many resources to the Process & Faith website, including A Process-Relational Guide to Grief, Death, and Funerals.