Do I actually care if Monica Lewinsky has plastic surgery on an upcoming reality TV show?
We are plagued by a prevalent fascination with the tantalising and the trivial, the immediate and the individual. Such preoccupations threaten to rob young and old alike of any sense of human substance or significance, connected to heroic deeds, historical events, and traditions that actually matter.
No wonder loneliness, cynicism and despair are in the mainstream cultural air we breathe.
I cannot help noticing that Luke narrates an alternative way of being human in his account of Jesus’ words and deeds, initially compiled for Theophilus in the days of Roman Empire.
Luke writes: “In the time of Herod king of Judea there was a priest named Zechariah …” (1:5) and again in 3:1-2 Luke writes: “In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar … the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness.”
Ordinary people on a world stage. Without any hoo-ha or drum roles, (but of considerable significance for attentive readers of Scripture), Luke wonderfully connects the lives of ordinary people – Zechariah, Elizabeth, John – who live on the margins of the Empire, to the world rulers of their day – King Herod, Tiberius Caesar – and the world stage of which they are part.
Zechariah and Elizabeth lived a long way from the centre of the Empire. They were old, they were childless. Their lives, although they had loved God and faithfully served him over long years, had in important ways been disappointing and perhaps unnoticed. And the elderly Zechariah was just one of some 18,000 priests who served at the Jerusalem Temple. Only once in a priest’s lifetime was he chosen by lot to go into the holy place of the Temple.
But were Zechariah and Elizabeth insignificant? Certainly not. These ordinary old folks were about to participate in extraordinary events that would usher in an alternative Empire of peace and change the world for ever. Whether they understood it to be the case or not, they were players on a world stage. And so was their son.
Baby John, the unexpected child, was befriended by God’s Spirit before he was born. This child would grow to become an eccentric man, reminiscent of those edgy, unconventional Old Testament prophets whose earthly lives had long since passed. We are told that he was great in God’s eyes and yet, at about the age of 36, John would become a victim of Empire violence, beheaded by command of a drunk, cowardly king at the insistence of a seductive daughter and a spiteful wife.
John was a man on the margins. Who could have guessed at the impact of his life, from the corners of the Empire, on the world seemingly ruled from Rome by Caesars and their armies.
In our era, may young and old alike discover themselves as participants in God’s plans for the world. May all of us who feel ordinary find significant meaning through our participation in the extraordinary, world renewing purposes of God. May we take our place on the world stage and name our daily practices and routines as significant in ways yet to be revealed.