The Reverend Kathleen Killian, Celebrant
Advent 2B 2020
2 Peter 3:8-15
Into the Wilderness
As it is central to the Advent season, I’d like to begin by speaking to “waiting”—not that we are, or are not—or how we are, attentively or impatiently—but where we are—where it is that we are waiting for the coming of Christ. Do we know the place of our watching? our getting ready for? our longing and hoping? Or, is time simply passing in some amorphous place that we haven’t really identified?
Our texts let us know quite plainly where we are: that as God’s people and hearers of the Word, we are waiting in the wilderness for the coming of the Lord. All of our scriptures presume this: that we are in a far country and alongside our ancestors, grappling still with exile from the Holy. But on this second Sunday of Advent:
A voice cries out:
In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord,
make straight in the desert a highway for our God.
In our Old Testament passage, Isaiah prophesies to the peoples of Judah who have been exiled for some hundred and fifty years, crushed and defeated by the oppression of the Babylonians and their own iniquity. But they will be consoled and comforted by the Lord God who will lead them home through the wilderness.
When John the Baptist appears in this wilderness he breaks four hundred years of prophetic silence, crying out as did Malachi, Isaiah, and prophets of old to wake up! repent! turn back to God! His is a rebuking voice in the wilderness that yet promises a new future of God’s comfort and renewal.
The writer of 2nd Peter penned his discourse to early Christians who were scattered throughout Asia Minor and persecuted. They were bewildered and heavy with doubt. Why has the Lord not come as promised? How long must we wait?
St. Mark speaks to both Jews and Gentiles, and to a community divided in a time of great political and religious upheaval when little was clear or hopeful. And yet the evangelist begins his gospel with:
The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
As it is written in the prophet Isaiah,
See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you,
who will prepare your way;
the voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.
As in our texts today, the wilderness is a profoundly relevant place in the whole of scripture. The way to the promised land is through the wilderness, and it was into the desert where Moses led Israel; it is where Elijah took refuge, where David hid from his enemies, where Jacob had a dream, where an angel appeared to Hagar, where Jesus was tested, tested, and tested again, and emerged, transformed and readied to bear the cross of God’s everlasting life and love.
Even in God’s future, from the Book of Revelation, the Woman who gives birth to a Son who will shepherd all nations escapes into the wilderness to a place of safety prepared by God before war breaks out in heaven. She remains in the wilderness for well over one thousand days (12:1-6).
When John the Baptist appears in the wilderness, as he does in our gospel this morning, he spreads his message by remaining there. He never left until he was thrown into prison. As we read: the people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him. They were, as we are, seeking direction, meaning, hope and peace. So too, we must go into the desert to hear the Baptist’s hard but hopeful word of repentance.
If we cannot acknowledge the deep need in the marrow of our bones and consent to God’s judgment, we will miss the greater measure and fulfillment of God’s mercy and forgiveness. If we do not know that we are morally lost, we will never seek to find and be found. If we cannot name the places of our spiritual desolation, what hope and solace can our hearts hope to receive?
If we bypass the soberness of the wilderness for the sweetness of the manger, already snuggled in with the baby Jesus, how can we to expect or recognize the One who is more powerful than I, than me, than you, the One who is coming, the One who saves?
As I read in a commentary this week, God’s mighty word of comfort and hope can only truly be heard by exiles who know they are exiles, by captives who know they are captive; otherwise, the mighty Word becomes but a mere sentiment of the holiday season.
It is so important to confess our sin, and the lonely and barren places we inhabit, whether we’ve entered into them of our own volition or been taken there by illness, loss or a global pandemic. Sometimes we are driven by the Spirit into the desert where there is both oasis and isolation. But inevitably, we find that during our lives we spend a good deal of time in the wilderness and its unknown uneven ground.
To abide there with God, where God’s presence is often absent and God’s voice often silent, requires a great deal of courage. And yet in the stark dwelling of the wilderness our illusions of self-sufficiency quickly dissolve, and we come to find where we are: at the periphery of our vulnerability and the edges of our own power, where we see:
The one who is more powerful than I is coming . . .
God’s promise is that we will emerge from the desert, not unscathed, but changed, formed, and transformed. Every valley shall be lifted up, every lowland of the spirit raised; every mountain and hill be made low, every vanity and pride made humble; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plai;, every warped thought and crooked direction will be made straight. Then, there, the glory of the Lord shall be revealed in our hearts.
The urgency of Advent is that we embody this hope and dare to be a sign of hope where there is no solution. As we wait in the darkness of Advent, so Christ waits with us, to be born again in the manger of any humble heart, to come again in the great power and glory of any true love.
Though our souls be harried and our feet hurried, let us trust in the slow work of God. May we await this Advent with eyes wide open, that we might see with the prophets Isaiah and John the Baptist, that we might see with St. Mark:
See, the Lord God comes with might,
and his arm rules for him;
his reward is with him,
and his recompense before him.
He will feed his flock like a shepherd;
he will gather the lambs in his arms,
and carry them in his bosom, and gently lead the mother sheep.
What better message to leave us with this morning; that here is our God, whose might and rule is revealed in the power of gentleness and tenderness, in caring and intimate presence; that God’s scattered and sinful people will be gathered up—all of the lost captive exiled and abandoned parts of ourselves—to be carried home safely in the bosom of our Lord.
Let us cry out: Come, Lord Jesus.