ADVENT WEEK II Civic Words Luke 3:6. “All flesh shall see the salvation of God.”
The afternoon of the same family visit I mentioned last week, I helped my thirteen-year-old granddaughter Lucy prepare for a U. S. civics test. Her study notes included what citizens should do (for example, respect others, stay informed, vote, communicate with lawmakers) as well as what citizens must do (obey laws, pay taxes, serve on juries when called, and so on). The material also addressed the government’s promises to its people (such as public safety, protection from foreign and domestic threats, trial by a jury of peers). It enumerated qualities desirable in those wishing to become U.S. citizens (including good character, a passion for our democracy, and knowledge of our constitution) and set forth the steps necessary to apply for and attain American citizenship. Finally, the material included the first amendment rights of U. S. citizens—peaceful assembly, freedom of speech, freedom of worship (including freedom from any governmental establishment of religion); a free press.
The gospel for the second Sunday of Advent (Luke 3:1-6) says nothing about citizens’ rights and responsibilities, or even who was eligible for citizenship when Jesus was born. If it did, there would undoubtedly be a few similarities and some consequential differences between then and now. Luke does, however, offer a civics lesson of sorts when he lists some of the rulers of the day, along with their titles and the territories they governed—including Tiberius, the emperor of Rome; Pontius Pilate, the governor of Judea; and Herod, the ruler of Galilee.
Then, as the passage moves along, Luke hints at citizenship in an entirely different realm, the one announced by John the Baptist. I can almost hear an ancient grandmother helping her grandchild study John’s teachings. “Name two duties of a citizen of God’s kingdom.” To prepare the way of the Lord, and to make his paths straight. “And what is the promise in return?” That all flesh shall see the salvation of God.
I think of myself as a good American citizen, but helping Lucy study made me wonder: Do I take my citizenship for granted? I pay taxes. I vote. I try to stay informed. But is that enough? Given the pressing issues of our day, I cannot think of a time when well-lived-out citizenship is more important – when we might risk fitting-in, in order to stand up for what we believe. By definition, citizenship means you are in community with others, but good citizenship may involve standing alone. We need good citizens at all levels of government—local, state, and national. And then there is God’s realm. Not just our nation but all nations, and indeed, our entire planet earth, are in need of good citizens.
This suggests another possible topic for an Advent conversation. Perhaps this week you could invite a person or two to share a simple soup-and-sandwich meal over which you reflect on what it means to be a citizen in the realm of God. I often take that citizenship for granted, too. Moreover, I forget John the Baptist’s promise—his radical promise—to us humans who inhabit God’s realm, that salvation belongs not just to you and me and people who look or think or believe or live the way we do. Rather the promise is that ALL flesh shall see God’s salvation. What does that promise ask of me as a citizen of my city or county, my state, my nation? What does it ask of me as a global citizen? What does it ask of me as a person of faith? If I take the words of John the Baptist seriously, how does his vision shape how I act and what I say as I move toward Bethlehem?