Luke 3:1-2 the Gospel reading for the second Sunday in Advent is the the sort of gospel passage you always hoped not to have to read aloud. All those hard-to-pronounce names, like Ituraea and Lysanias. And what does it matter who was tetrarch of Abilene anyway?
Well the difficulty with dismissing this specific locating by Luke of God's activity, in its relation to the political power structure, is that the Gospel story is not just some vague, disembodied spirituality or generic brand religion. It is specific, located in a particular geography, history and configuration of political power.
So it matters. It matters, especially if you're someone who cares about power and authority, and how it is exercised. God for the record seems to have been and remain deeply interested in such matters.
Let's try it again. In the second term of George Bush Jr as American emperor, Tony Blair being his loyal ally in the invasion of Iraq, and John Howard of Australia being a member of the coalition of the Willing, and Pope John II was Bishop of Rome, the Word of God appeared in a slum in Baghad. Or something like that.
You get the picture. It was a scandal. This Word overlooked the ruling powers, both secular and religious, and went straight to the edges of acceptability—to the wilderness. The lesson is, if you want to understand the reign of God, look in unexpected places. Go to the margins, to those who we regard as enemies, or at least outsiders.
And watch out for this Word. It is disturbing, discomforting and dislocating. It has the power to level the hills and fill in the valleys. It is like "a refiner's fire" and "a fuller's soap," according to Malachi. It will purify us by the torch and rub us clean until it hurts.
You were expecting maybe just an innocent baby, that when surrounded by kitsch decorations, could be enthusiastically promoted by advertising agencies to underpin a consumption oriented economy?
(With grateful acknowledgements to Joyce Hollyday at sojonet for the original idea)