Sermons

"Advent Wilderness": Sermon for the Second Sunday of Advent, Year C

"Advent Wilderness": Sermon for the Second Sunday of Advent, Year C

Dec 09, 2018

Passage:Luke 3:1-6

Preacher: The Rev. Dr. Jill Walters

Series: Advent

Category: Hope, Forgiveness, Repentance

Keywords: advent, forgiveness, hope, repentance, wilderness

Summary:

Advent is a time of waiting and watching. It can be like being in a "wilderness." John the Baptist spent most of his life in the wilderness, waiting and watching... What can we learn from his experience of the wilderness?

Detail:

May the Words of my mouth and the meditations of each heart be always acceptable in your sight, O Lord our Strength and our Redeemer.  Amen.

Last week I was talking with a dear, lifelong friend who is living with cancer.  Her cancer is not curable...there is no remission...only managing this disease.  She was waiting on the latest test results to see whether the cancer cells had spread too far to be contained or whether these cells were from a different type of cancer.  She was planning a big trip with friends and wasn’t going to postpone it. 

My friend talked about the difficulty of waiting, the fear, the anger, the unknown.  She said that she has learned over these years to be present in the waiting...to live life...to be thankful for the love that surrounds her...and that love is the source of healing in whatever form the healing comes.

As we walk through Advent, we’re in the season of waiting.  And as we wait, we live with the tension of expectation and being present...the waiting and the watching as we say in our Prayers of the People. 

In our waiting and watching, we prepare. 

In today’s reading from the Gospel of Luke, we encounter John the Baptist...the great prophet...the one who prepares the people for Jesus. 

John’s very existence is a miracle in and of itself.  He was born to Zechariah and Elizabeth.  They were old when he was conceived.  They had never been able to have children.  The angel proclaims to Elizabeth and Zechariah that John is filled with the Holy Spirit even before his birth.  He will turn the people of Israel toward the Lord and get the people ready for the coming of the Lord.

So, John the Baptist has a great calling even before he’s born.  He grows up knowing that this is his mission.  He lives most of his life in the wilderness, preparing for this time and for this mission. 

Have you ever been in the wilderness?  Have you ever been in a place so far “off the grid” that you can’t ignore what is happening around you and to you?  I dare say that we all probably have.

When we’re in the wilderness, at first, our thoughts are so loud that they alarm us.  We can’t turn on a television or music to drown out our thoughts.  We can’t rely on our shelter to protect us.  We’re at the mercy of the universe...at the mercy of that which surrounds us...things we may or may not recognize and anticipate.

If we’re able to quiet ourselves, we start to hear things we never noticed.  We open ourselves up to listening instead of just thinking.  Now these things may become comforting, but they may also be frightening. 

The wilderness isn’t some romanticized place where all is at peace.  Let’s not kid ourselves, sometimes the wilderness contains danger, danger we may or may not be ready for.

John the Baptist knows the wilderness.  He’s spent most of his life there.  He’s felt the discomfort and fear that can live in the wilderness.  But whatever else he may have experienced there, he has also learned to listen to God.  He has heard God calling him to prepare the people.

As he goes out from the wilderness to begin his mission, he tells the people that they should repent so that their sins can be forgiven.  From what we know about John in the Scriptures, he’s not quietly and gently telling people to repent. 

He’s probably being bold about it.  John isn’t one to hold back.  He’s been called by God as a prophet.  A prophet who tell us the truth, oftentimes truth we don’t want to hear, but truth nonetheless.  A prophet cuts to the chase and tellsus how we’re off track.  And John certainly lives up to his calling as a prophet.

His message is urgent and it’s clear that we need to get ready...get ready for the Messiah...the one who brings salvation to the world. 

John tells us how to get ready.  He tells us that we’ve got to repent.  We’ve got to own up to our sins—those things we have done and those things we haven’t done that we should have.

As we repent and ready our hearts andminds and bodies and souls, we receive forgiveness.  We receive the freedom of knowing that we’re in tune with God’s will.  It doesn’t mean the consequences of what we’ve doneare magically erased.  It doesn’t mean that life is perfect and easy. 

It does mean that we clear out the obstacles, we prepare the way so that we can hear and see God’s love in the world...in ourselves...and in each other.  It’s a continual process, this repenting and receiving forgiveness and preparing.  But thanks be to God that God is always there, just waiting to offer more forgiveness.

And let’s be clear about John’s message for us to repent and receive forgiveness.  This is certainly part of the work we’re called to do.  But it’s not this work we do that brings about our salvation. 

We prepare the way.  Yes, we remove the obstacles that keep us from being present in this world...in both its beauty and its brokenness.  When we get rid of the things that hold us back, our vision clears and we know to the very depths of our being that God’s love is all around us.

We all find ourselves in the wilderness from time to time.  It may be when we’re waiting for test results or living in the midst of illness.  It may be when we feel all alone and abandoned.  It may be when we’ve lost ourselves and our way to the demands of the world.  It may be the addiction that has its hold over us and the ones we love. 

And it may be times when we’re starting on a new and exciting adventure in our lives.  The wilderness can take on many forms.

Brene Brown calls the wilderness...”the place of true belonging...the bravest and most sacred place you will ever stand.”[1]

John the Baptist lived in this wilderness.  He recognized the risk.  And he paid attention to the sacred.  His place of belonging within the Kingdom of God was never in doubt.

As my friend talks about her cancer, she recognizes the sacred in the love that is all around her.  She realizes the gift that the present moment is.  Even as she waits again...even as she hopes and prays for more time...even as she screams in anger to God about the unfairness of it all.  God hears her cries in her wilderness. God surrounds her with love that cancer can’t destroy. 

God hears our cries...and walks with us in our own wilderness.  We are never alone and we are never, ever without God’s love.

Our preparation isn’t necessary for God to bring salvation to the world.  God is the one who does the saving.  There’s nothing we can do to save ourselves or anyone else around us.  But our preparation, our repentance, our willingness to love makes it possible for us to see, to know, and to be swept up in God’s work of redemption.  Amen.

 

[1] Brown, Brene.  2017.  Braving the Wilderness. New York, Random House, p. 36.