Dec. 9, 2018 – sermon

Posted by on Sun, Dec 9, 2018 in Advent, Sermons

The Second Sunday of Advent (Year C)

December 9, 2018

What a list of leaders Luke gives us; The Emperor Tiberius, Pontius Pilate, Herod, his brother Philip, Lysanias, Annas, Caiaphas, and finally John son of Zechariah brings up the end. John is of no rank or power like the other ruling leaders named. Yet we know his story and he is likely more familiar to us though, and you’ll remember that he was born to older parents thought to be ‘barren’, that his mother Elizabeth and Jesus’ mother Mary are cousins, and that John is conceived shortly before Jesus is. We are told John is sent as Jesus’ precursor of forerunner.

For us, hearing John’s words foretelling Jesus’ coming, during our season of Advent puts us in mind of Jesus as an infant, and yet that’s not the scene here. We who await and celebrate the arrival of the infant Messiah hear these words as prophesy, and John is quoting the old testament prophets, but remember John is an adult speaker here and he is telling them of the soon to be realized arrival of Jesus, also an adult. Part of the reason scripture makes a huge jump here from John and Jesus’ infancy to them as adults is to highlight the very prophesy we hear today. When the angel Gabriel came to John’s father Zechariah he said of John, “With the spirit and power of Elijah he will go before him, to turn the hearts of parents to their children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous, to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.” Then right after John’s birth we hear, “The child grew and became strong in spirit, and he was in the wilderness until the day he appeared publicly to Israel.” Hold onto that mention of John in the wilderness because it’s more important than passing mention.

Jumping ahead some thirty years helps us see the prophesy and fulfillment as more immediate, and to feel the sense of divine fulfillment in it as John quotes Isaiah; “The voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way of the Lord.” John is the one at the gateway between the prophets of the Hebrew Scriptures and the one promised to be both prophet and savior, who comes now. John is the bridge between them, so hearing that God’s word has come to John “in the wilderness” shouldn’t surprise us. In scripture the wilderness is a place of desolation, scarcity, danger, and even death, but it is also frequently where God is with the prophets of old, making it for them a place of divine presence, guidance and even safety for those walking with God. Think of Moses and the people wandering for forty years but also watched over by God, of both David and Elijah fleeing to the wilderness and finding God’s favor. Today we’re reminded that John grew up in wilderness and became strong there – he didn’t just drop in there for a wilderness experience or teen rebellion, it’s where he came to know God. I think this prophetic tradition of knowing God in wilderness is true for us as well, even if not a literal wilderness. We had our Advent Quiet Day yesterday and worked with labyrinths. Entering a labyrinth is a kind of wilderness as you leave where you have been, surrender control, and make an intentional journey with God. Yours might be another place set apart, like the quiet darkness of this room on Wednesday nights during Contemplative Eucharist. It might be a place of desert-like challenge where you find you must seek God.

John crying out in the wilderness making his prophesy of Jesus’ coming known informs us that God is with us and working within us in such places, unlikely as that can seem. We might name our own surroundings as ‘wilderness’ at times; a difficult drought-like workplace, the wilderness of hospitals and doctor’s offices when your health is in jeopardy, or maybe the scary sense of the unpredictability of politics, or a trying and desolate time in one’s personal life—these too are the wilderness experiences where we discover God providing what we need. Once we encounter God in such a time, we might be like John, one “crying out in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way of the Lord.’”

I’ve had just such a time this past month as the vestry prepares to finalize our 2019 budget in light of the pledges to give turned in by all of you. We can only budget to spend what money we have to work with, and for several weeks it looked like we were going to be significantly short of what we had hoped, requiring difficult decisions about cuts that none of us wanted to make. However, a combination of some last pledges coming in and a few costs being reduced means we will avoid this and can again look ahead to the year of faithful ministry and capable staffing that supports us in proclaiming God’s word and being Christ’s presence to others in the expansive ways we show God’s love. That 2019 budget is not yet final, and it has definitely been a ‘wilderness’ experience for the vestry and me, yet God has spoken in ways that give us hope and heart, and move our voices to cry out, Prepare the way of the Lord —from St. Michael’s outward! Prepare the way of the Lord as we live his commands. Prepare the way of the Lord as we tell his story. Truly, my wilderness was a place of scarcity and worry until God’s presence was revealed once again in this hopeful outcome.

John as Jesus’ forerunner is heard from first, and then as he prophesied, Jesus comes onto the scene, but that is not the end of wilderness experience. Immediately afterwards Jesus himself is “Led by the Spirit into the wilderness” only to return “filled with the power of the Spirit” and taking up his public ministry. God spoke to him when he was enduring those temptations and the wilderness became a place where he too knew God. Recall also how we read of Jesus withdrawing to those deserted wilderness places simply to pray and to be with God. This is what our Quiet Day was about, it is what we find here, it is where our hearts go when we stop the noise and the phones, the errands and the busyness, and we stop to pray. We seek and find God knowing that it is in these wilderness times that God comes, that God provides divine sustenance. Such experiences should provoke us to action though, to give voice to our faith as it did John and Jesus. When you encounter God’s grace in your wilderness listen and look for how it can move you forward in your faith journey. How does it embolden you to prepare for God’s way to be known, experienced? Where do you go with it?

Incongruous as it sounds, alongside of John the Baptizer proclaiming Jesus’ coming, today we also honor another messenger of God; St. Nicholas. We are hoping for a visit from him at those services where we’ll have children present, and one of the stories he is best known for is dropping a bag of coins through the window of the home of a poor family. They were so impoverished that the daughters could not afford to be married. I think of how those parents might have felt and how bleak things looked for the daughters—what a time of wilderness in their home! The gifts so generously given by Nicholas, Bishop of Myra were, to my thinking, how God spoke and provided for them in their wilderness, how God used Nicholas to prepare the way for his presence to be felt even in their worry and poverty —and we have ever since sought to imitate that loving generosity especially at this time of year.

May God known to us in wilderness, and the carrying of God’s presence to those around us, be powerful cause for us also to cry out, “Prepare the way of the Lord”!

© 2018 The Rev. Katherine Sedwick. All rights reserved.

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