Advent 2 Homily :: Wilderness


Right side window from St. John's Episcopal Church

Two images today: One of the way things are; the other of things as they will be

The First

Wilderness of Judea

  • -  Place of foreboding, where wild animals roam, dry, unforgiving.
    • -  This is where Jesus was tempted by the Devil.
    • -  This is the place where men and women religious, since the begin-

ning of time, have gone to find God.

-  It was not a place for wimps!

-  The wilderness was a place where one could find God in the midst of strug- gle. A Thin place if you will.

-  John was out there, like many other theos aner men & women of god who preached and proclaimed and prophesied and worked miracles.

-  Many people came to hear these god-bearers, hoping to have an experi- ence of the holy in their lives.

-  John set up shop out there, baptizing folks in a ritual ceremony of purifica- tion in anticipation of the coming of the Messiah.

-  All sorts of people came...

-  Even the rulers and leaders of the religious system, whom John called

“vipers” Four things he did:

1. Told folks they couldn’t rely on their association with Abraham to save them

2. Called out all to bear the fruit of repentance, to show that their lives had in- deed turned around

3. Talked of God cutting with a holy axe the root of human systems—religious, political, social, familial, economic—which do not bear the kind of fruit wor- thy of God’s coming reign.

4. Proclaimed a coming One who would once and for all do away with sys- tems of injustice—the chaff of the world. Only the fruits of repentance will survive.

That’s all well and good, but for most of us, that can seem a bit abstract. Wilderness talk of two thousand years ago, doesn’t do much for us to- day. Or does it?

Are there wilderness areas today? Not the intentional kind, perhaps, which people seek out in order to struggle and find God.

But there are wilderness areas, true enough. Places where one can find God in the midst of struggle... I think of:

  • -  Aleppo...
  • -  Refugee camps scattered throughout the Middle East and the so-called re-

settlement camps in many parts of Europe...

-  Towns in Italy, Japan, Haiti and elsewhere which have faced natural disas-

ter...

-  Tennessee and Kentucky and other parts of the South which have been

devastated by fires and horrible storms...

-  Standing Rock, maybe one of the most powerful of wilderness areas, espe-

cially during the winter...

Each of these places—and many more—are places where people have looked for and found God.

Each of these places has people like John the Baptist, proclaiming a better future.

But I also think of wilderness places that are not so obvious, or in the public eye

  • -  The woman struggling dementia.
  • -  The father who has been laid off from his third job in as many years and can

barely make ends meet.

-  The mother trying to keep her kids safe from an ex-husband who keeps ha-

rassing her.

-  The refugee family trying to protect their children from the name-callers at

school.

-  The gay teen who has been kicked out of his home by his conservative folks

and who has nowhere to crash at night.

-  The parents trying to understand how their little girl could have cancer.

Each of these people, too, are looking for God. Maybe not by name. But they are look- ing for something greater than themselves that can help them to make sense of their world and the wilderness areas in which they find themselves.

Do they hear the call of a modern-day John [or Jane] the Baptist, giving them hope for a better future?

Now for the second image:

The wolf shall live with the lamb,
the leopard shall lie down with the kid,
the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them.
The cow and the bear shall graze,
their young shall lie down together;

and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.

The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp,
and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder’s den. They will not hurt or destroy
on all my holy mountain,
for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the LORD
as the waters cover the sea.
[Is. 11.6-9]

What a reversal here!
And what hope!
Whoever heard of such a thing? Look at what is going on:

  1. The wolf, the leopard, the lion, the bear, and the asp are no longer doing what they “normally” do. There is a reversal here. They no longer prey on the ones further down the food chain! In God’s time—God’s reign—there will no longer be hunter and hunted. Predator and prey.
  2. Children will no longer need to learn fear. They can play where once there were dangerous animals.
  3. And, in this image of the New Jerusalem—God’s Holy Mountain—the great- est reversal will occur: People will no longer hurt or destroy one another!

Imagine what good news this is to the people of Aleppo! Or South Sudan.
Or Gatlinburg, Tennessee.
Or Cannonball.

God’s reign brings about a reversal of the way things are for “the earth will be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea.”

Now for the challenge to each of us...

This is not a present reality. But it is our hope for the future. And we are called to pro- claim that hope.

Perhaps we are called to be modern-day John/Jane the Baptist!

Perhaps we are to go into the wilderness areas of people’s lives and offer the message of the coming One. Of Jesus. Of Immanuel, God-with-us, who calls us each by name and bids us come.

Perhaps we are the ones to offer hope in the midst of struggle. Perhaps we are the ones to offer Jesus.

AMEN!!! 

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