Advent #2…Series C
Saint Andrew’s EC (December 5th and 6th, 2015)
Text: Luke 3:1-6
Title: Word for the Wilderness…
If you listened carefully to the Gospel reading for this second Sunday of Advent, you actually heard two voices speaking to you thru the words of the Evangelist Luke. The first was the voice of the crusty old Jewish prophet, Isaiah, speaking nearly 3000 years ago to a group of people who had been uprooted from their homes and carried into exile in Babylon. The second voice is the strident (and somewhat abrasive) voice of John the Baptist, the last of the Old Testament prophets. John the Baptist who, each year during Advent, comes storming out of the Judean wilderness, wearing animal skins and eating bugs and shouting at us…REPENT…you brood of Episcopalian Vipers!! And in today’s Gospel, John tells us (in no uncertain terms) that he is the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy… he is the one ordained by God to prepare the people of God for the coming of the Messiah…the Christ…the annointed one…the one all Israel had been waiting for and hoping for and praying for, for thousands of years!
As part of my preparation for preaching this weekend, I decided to re-read Isaiah’s prophecy just to make sure John the Baptist got it right and I discovered something very interesting. If you look at Isaiah 40:3 you will read: “A voice cries: IN THE WILDERNESS PREPARE THE WAY OF THE LORD…make straight in the desert a highway for our God”.
But that isn’t what Luke says John says…Luke says John says: “The voice of one Crying in the wilderness, prepare the Way of the Lord; make His paths straight”.
So there is a difference between what Isaiah says and what Luke says, John says, Isaiah says! But is this important…or is it just an interesting, but, essentially irrelevant detail? Possibly…but, mu hunch is that what Isaiah is saying…what the great prophet is trying to teach us is that it is specifically in the wilderness that our preparations for the coming of the Lord must begin…it is in the wilderness experiences of life that the Word of God will happen (in new, surprising and unpredictable ways) for God’s people!!
The Wilderness…I would like for us to spend a few moments this evening/morning thinking about the wilderness…not so much as a place…a geographical location, but as an experience…a state of being…a condition of the heart and the Spirit! The Wilderness…it can certainly be a place/experience of pregnant with spiritual possibilities…really significant and transformational spiritual experiences can and often do take place in the wilderness moments of life. But the problem is that the wilderness is not the kind of place where most of us really want to be! The wilderness is a lonely place…an empty place; a place which most of us find disturbingly unfamiliar…it is a place of danger/darkness…even death. And it is no wonder that when we find ourselves in the wilderness our immediate impulse is to escape and as quickly as possible.
The Wilderness…there are two observations…two things I would like to say to you this evening/morning about the Wilderness as it relates to where you are in your journey as a faith community and where I think together we will be heading in the weeks and months just ahead of us..
First, I think it is accurate to say that this faith community…that you…the people of Saint Andrew’s Episcopal Church have been in a kind of spiritual wilderness for the past 15-18 months… It has been a kind of Wilderness experience for many of you…an experience which you would just as soon be over and done with (and as soon as possible)? Am I right about that…is that an accurate assessment of the situation?? So, that is the first observation…you have been in the Wilderness!
The second observation is related to the first, and that is that this community of faith is still in the Wilderness and we probably will be for some time to come. And it is interesting (and I think important) that the first lesson for this second Sunday in Advent is addressed to a group of people who found themselves in a very similar situation. The Book of Baruch (named after Baruch ben Neriah who was the secretary to the great prophet Jeremiah) was addressed to Jewish people living in Exile in Babylon (a kind of wilderness experience, I am sure).. The people who read these words were told that their years in exile was coming to an end…it wasn’t over yet, but there was light at the end of the tunnel…there was HOPE in the air…and it felt like a brand new day was about to dawn…a day which would bring their 60 year wilderness experience to an end!
And friends, that is exactly where we find ourselves today as we begin this new partnership in ministry. We are still in the wilderness…but there is hope in the air…it feels like a new day is dawning! And it is to a sturdy group of “wilderness survivors” that I speak m there is hope in the y first homily on this second Sunday of Advent! And the Word I want to share with you this evening/morning is a word saturated with HOPE…friends, this is not my word…this is God’s Word and it is for all of us:
Take off the garments of sorrow and affliction and put on the Robe of Righteousness…for God will lead his people with joy in the light of His glory!!
My friends, Baruch got it right…a New Day is dawning for us…a day filled with HOPE and exciting and challenging possibilities! But, we have important work…holy work …”Wilderness Work” that we are being called to do together…and, I’ll be honest with you…it won’t be easy (rebuilding community is never easy), and it will take time and patience. But I am confident…absolutely confident… that, working together in a spirit of partnership, (and with the energy and inspiration of the Holy Spirit) we will be equal to the task. Today, we begin again to be the Corpus Christi…the Body of Christ! And we cry out to the God who saves thru Jesus Christ and by the power of the Holy Spirit to grant us the wisdom, courage…the grace…and the resources we will need to accomplish our Mission…together and with great JOY!
May God bless us and may God bless this new partnership in ministry!!