Advent #2…Series C
Saint Andrews EC (December 8&9, 2018)
Text: Luke 3:1-6
Title: In the Wilderness…
The Evangelist Luke tells us (in our Gospel reading for this 2ndSunday in Advent) that In the 15thyear of the reign of the Roman Emperor Tiberius, that the Word of God CAME to John the Baptist (the son of Zechariah, the priest and his wife, Elizabeth, the second cousin of Jesus’ mother, Mary)…The Word of God Came to John the Baptist in the Judean wilderness!!
Now, the English word CAME is a perfectly acceptable translation of the Greek verb that Luke uses in today’s Gospel. But I don’t think the word CAME adequately or accurately expresses what Luke is saying took place in the life of John the Baptist in the Judean wilderness. In this case, I prefer a more literal translation of the Greek verb: I prefer the word HAPPENED…”The Word of God HAPPENEDto John in the wilderness”. It was a “Holy Happening”…an event that changed John from the inside out…a HAPPENING that rearranged his life, so totally and completely…so comprehensively that the best way to describe what happened was to say that John was “BORN ALL OVER AGAIN”. The Word of God happened to John…just like it happened to a 13 year old virgin named Mary 30 years earlier, and like it would happen to Saul of Tarsus on the road to Damascus a few years later. And isn’t it interesting and just a little surprising that this total and complete spiritual transformation did not take place in a synagogue or in the Temple in the holy city of Jerusalem…No…the life of this preacher’s kid was turned up-side-down in the Judean wilderness… a dry, lifeless, empty, God-forsaken place…(I have been to the Judean wilderness…we were there last February during our Holy Land pilgrimage and, believe me, it is just as I described it…dry, barren, life-less and God-Forsaken). But it was in that place that theWORD OF GOD HAPPENED TO JOHN the Baptist!!
If you listened carefully to the Gospel reading from the 3rdchapter of Luke, 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 voice of John the Baptist, the last of the Old Testament prophets. John the Baptist who, each year, on the 2ndSunday of 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, the evangelist Luke tells us (in no uncertain terms) that John the Baptist (the last of the Old Testament Prophets) 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 I prepared this homily 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 you will read: A voice cries: IN THE WILDERNESS PREPARE THE WAY OF THE LORD! 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 straight in the dessert a highway for our God…Maybe this is an unimportant and insignificant detail…something that Biblical scholars may find interesting, but something essentially irrelevant to the central meaning of the story. Possibly…but I doubt it! Maybe what Isaiah is saying is that it is specifically in the wilderness that our preparations for the coming of the Lord must begin…it is in the wilderness of our lives…when we feel lost and alone; vulnerable and afraid and without visible means of support…it is specifically in the wilderness experiences of our lives that the Word of God can HAPPEN for us!
It seems to me that we as a congregation…as a faith community…are in a kind of WILDERNESS this Advent. I will retire on January 28thand, as we learned in the Discernment Committee update last Sunday, we are no closer to calling the 24thRector than we were when the committee began its work last March. And with the demand for priests exceeding the supply and with so many parishes in our Diocese in transition and searching for clergy, the prospects are not all that promising. It does feel like a kind of WILDERNESS, doesn’t it? But maybe…maybe this is exactly where we need to be this Advent…maybe God is trying to get our attention…trying to speak…trying to tell us that He is about to do something new…something different…something we never dreamed of…maybe (just maybe) the Word of God is about to HAPPEN for US!!
My friends, if the Word of God is going to HAPPEN…if we are to prepare for the coming of the Messiah this Christmas, then it is imperative…it is absolutely essential that our preparations begin in the wilderness of Advent. We must carve out for ourselves an intentional spiritual wilderness in the midst of the madness and craziness of this holiday season…a quiet place…a lonely place…an empty place where the Word of God can HAPPEN in new and surprising ways.
Friends, trust me, it won’t happen at the shopping mall…it won’t happen in a frenzy of buying and running from one holiday party to the next. If it is going to happen at all…it will happen in the solitude of an Advent wilderness…a quiet place where we can wait and watch and listen and pray for the subtle signs of God’s coming among us….a lonely place where we can believe fearlessly…an empty place where the Christ can be Born Anew in our hearts and in our lives. My friends, if the Word of God is going to HAPPEN for you this Christmas…then it will begin…it must begin in the wilderness of Advent…