Lectionary blog for Dec. 9, 2012
Second Sunday of Advent
Text: Luke 3:1-6
Verse 3: “[John] went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.”
The word “wilderness” brings a variety of things to mind. I grew up in the southwest part of Virginia and in the fourth and eighth grades we studied Virginia history so when I hear the word wilderness, the first thing I think of is the “Wilderness Campaign” of 1864.
My wife is very interested in ecology and the environment and almost once a week we get an appeal for funds from some group promising some form of wilderness preservation.
In the Hebrew Scriptures, “wilderness” usually refers to the area between Egypt and the Promised Land where the children of Israel wandered around following Moses, trying to figure out what it meant to be the chosen people of God.
In the Gospels “the wilderness” meant a relatively narrow strip of desert to the east of the Jordan River. This wilderness is where both John and Jesus went to be alone with God and wrestle with their demons and to become clear about their mission, their calling. While they were in the wilderness, they were hungry and thirsty and hot and lonely and in danger of being devoured by wild beasts.
The question for us today is, “Where is our wilderness?”
Where is that place where we wrestle with our demons and look deeply into the face of God and discover our mission, our calling?
As we hear the word of God come to us today, we cannot think of the wilderness as a far-off place from long ago.
It’s not in Israel’s time of exodus through the desert. That was their wilderness. It’s not in John’s years of study and prayer in the desert. That was John’s wilderness. It’s not in Jesus’ 40 days of trial and temptation. That was Jesus’ wilderness.
Where is our wilderness? Perhaps our wilderness is the general state of the world. From war and violence in the Middle East to economic collapse in Europe to an ugly political season back here in the U.S. to political grid-lock in Washington, D.C. — the world is full of evidence that it continues to be a dangerous and unpredictable place.
I open up the paper in tiny Clay County, N.C., where I live, where there are only 10,000 folks.
Three front page news stories: 1) a drug bust of a man with a van full of cocaine, 2) a cold-blooded shoot-out murder and 3) a young man who has been arrested after a string of violent home invasions in which he allegedly beat up old people and then took their stuff.
Violence, drugs, crime, disease, economic distress — you never know when something or someone might dart out of the shadows and get you. Is the danger of the world our wilderness?
Maybe our wilderness is the free-living and freewheeling culture in which we live. Many times we seem to have given ourselves over completely to the new Golden Rule: “The one who has the gold, rules!” All over the world a simple materialistic principle applies: If people want it and are willing to pay for it, why shouldn’t they have it?
Sex, drugs, luxuries. Questions of morals and values and quality of life are quickly drowned out by voices shouting that the market must be free; people must be free even if it means free to pursue their own destruction. Is ours a world that has completely lost its ethical bearings? Is that our wilderness?
Well, truth be told, our wilderness is exactly where it has always been, deep in the middle of each human heart. Ever since Adam and Eve were cast out of the Garden of Eden after deciding to follow their own way instead of God’s way, we have carried the wilderness with us, wherever we go.
There is no place on earth we can go to find the peace we are looking for. And there is no place on earth the peace of God in Christ cannot find us.
Where is our wilderness? It is in us, in our fears and failures, our sins and shortcomings, our trials and troubles and tribulations.
And where is our God? God is in our wilderness with us, deep in our lives, showing us the way.
Where is our God? God is in the word, the word that came to John in his wilderness, the word of Scripture that we read, the word of Gospel that we preach, the word of hope and promise that calms our fears and forgives our sins.
Where is our God? God is in the waters of baptism, washing us clean from the dirt and dust of the desert, rinsing away the wastes of the wilderness. God is in the water, bathing us in the warmth of the divine love.
Where is our God? God is in the sacrament of the table; God is feeding us on God’s self in the midst of our wilderness; giving us holy food and drink so that we may carry on with our journey.
Where is our God? God is here, in this community of wilderness wanderers, from the youngest to the oldest, from the wisest to the silliest, from the biggest to the smallest, from the most saintly to the most sinful. God is here, calling us together and calling us forward in our Advent journey out of the wilderness into the kingdom.
Amen and amen.
- Where is your wilderness?
- Can you think of a time where God found you in your wilderness?
Delmer Chilton is originally from North Carolina and received his education at the University of North Carolina, Duke Divinity School and the Graduate Theological Foundation. He received his Lutheran training at the Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary in Columbia, S.C. Ordained in 1977, Delmer has served parishes in North Carolina, Georgia and Tennessee.