Luke the Physician, as he is usually known, was a gentile from Antioch, which is just up the road from Jerusalem, in what is modern day Turkey. Antioch was thought by many to be the cradle of Christianity, as it was written in the Acts of the Apostles, the disciples were first called Christians in that city.
Luke also wrote the Acts of the Apostles, which is considered part two of the Gospel that he wrote. Luke did not see Jesus himself, but had heard many stories from others, including St. Paul, and was moved by the Spirit to write them down. Most scholars agree that Luke used the Gospel of Mark as his outline, and added material from what he had received from others.
The early church historian Eusebius wrote that; “Luke, who was by race an Antiochian and a physician by profession, was long a companion of Paul, and had careful conversation with the other Apostles, and in two books left us examples of the medicine for the souls which he had gained from them”
In chapter 3 of this Gospel, we are introduced to John the Baptist, or John the Forerunner, as he is know in Orthodox circles.
Luke sets the time period with verse one in this chapter, the 15th year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, Pontius Pilate being the governor of Judea, and Herod, the tetrarch of Galilee. A tetrarch is a subordinate king, because Herod was subordinate to Caesar. That would put this event around 29 or 30 AD.
Then he begins the story of John, the son of Zechariah when the word of God came to him.
John was proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.
The word ‘baptism’ is a Greek word for the ritual washing that the Jews performed when they wanted to purify themselves after they were ritually unclean for some reason.
Remember at the wedding in Cana in the Gospel of St. John, there were large vessels of water that Jesus would turn into wine? The water was there for hand washing, which had to be done before and after every meal.
This is still the custom in Malawi, as I found that the use of eating utensils is optional.
The Jews also practiced the same sort of full body baptism when they were unclean, per the ritual of the Temple. No one could offer a sacrifice at the Temple unless they were ritually clean.
Archaeologists have found ancient baths in Jerusalem where people could bathe their entire bodies for the purpose of this ritual cleansing. Observant Jews still use more modern versions of these baths, and from the pictures I saw, some look quite luxurious.
So baptism was not a new thing in the this time of the ministry of John the Baptizer. What was different is that the baptism of John was more than a simple ritual cleansing. It was for repentance and the forgiveness of sins.
Luke quotes the prophet Isaiah, as Mark did, in verse 4:
As it is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet, “The voice of one crying in the wilderness: Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.
Since the grammar of New Testament Greek is without much punctuation, this sounds just a little different from our version of Isaiah, chapter 40, verse 3:
“A voice cries: (colon) “In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD, make straight in the desert a highway for our God.”
To me, this prophecy says where there is nothing good, make a way for the LORD.
Recently, I spoke with a man who was having a lot of trouble in his life. The stress he was under was visible. It was the usual pressures that everyone has, the jobs, the kids, the relationships, but there was more.
His conscience was weighing very heavy on him because of some bad decisions he had made in his past. No matter what he did, this pressure caused even more stress, to where he had to find unhealthy ways to deal with it.
His life was like the wilderness. It was flat and desolate. There was no clear path through it. Just the act of living was like a mine field, with every step there was fear of disaster.
What made the difference for him was to get on his knees and confess his sin, and to know and feel the forgiveness of God. The path through his wilderness was cleared of the obstacles. The road was made straight and clear for the Lord to lead the way for him to follow.
I could be talking about anyone, even myself, as I have gone through this very thing. What made the difference for me was the confession and the absolution of that sin, the washing away of sin that John preached to those who would be preparing for the coming of Jesus into the world.
There may be some among you here who are burdened by the sin of some past mistake. It may be something that prevents you from having any joy in your life.
If there is, it may be time to receive the sacrament of reconciliation. I know it’s hard to make a confession. It’s hard for me every time I do it.
The question I am asked the most is, “Won’t you look at me differently after?”
The answer is an unqualified No. I would not look at anyone differently, and no priest would, because of the incredible gift that we have received through reconciliation, that is the forgiveness of sins.
I know the wonderful feeling of having confessed the sins that have weighed me down, and have hampered my spiritual growth. When I have received the sacrament of reconciliation, I have felt the weight of the world lifted from my shoulders, and many have told me of that same experience.
If you feel that you need to make a path for the Lord through the wilderness, Advent is a great time to clean house, and prepare for Jesus to arrive in your heart in a fresh way. The general confession in our Holy Eucharist covers most of the sins we make on a daily basis, but if there is something in particular you need to confess, please let me know, and I will meet you anytime, anywhere.
Prepare ye the way of the Lord! Amen.