Sermon for Advent II – “Walking in the Wilderness”
Luke 1: 26-33
It seems to be a long walk in the wilderness from the days of John preparing a way for the Lord; a long walk in the wilderness from Isaiah’s prophecy when crooked roads will be made straight to the birth of Jesus foretold. It is like having to cross over to the other side before we can see the beauty of the birth and behold the Prince of Peace.
I remember a trip to Vancouver with friends when we visited Stanley Park and I stood transfixed as I approached the bridge that would carry me to the other side; to this magnificent wilderness of forest. To really appreciate the redwood forest, one had to make this journey. So the only thing standing between me and this adventure was the rope bridge with wooden slats.
I really didn’t think much about it until I started across and happened to look down, and by the middle, realized that the bridge had begun to sway with the movement of my fellow travelers.
That’s when I grabbed the ropes on the side as if they could save my life when the whole thing broke through and plunged to the rocks below. I silently counted the number of slats between me and the view. There were about 20 of them, which was just enough to keep my conviction of a dramatic death alive.
The problem was that the people behind me were coming. Actually, they were waiting for me. I felt their presence just over my shoulder. Even though I was too afraid to turn around and look, I knew they were there. And there was only one direction to go–forward. Forward to the peace and tranquility of the forest.
And forward we go throughout the biblical stories until the 6th month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy with John who prepares the way for Jesus coming. Those biblical characters from Isaiah to John’s wilderness walks; he walked through war upon war until their prince of peace is born.
Maybe it’s the dark nights in Advent that makes us take seriously all these barriers that stand in the way of peace flowing to all people. Our cries for the coming of Jesus come from our deep awareness that there is still so much that seems to stand in the way of peace, so many barriers that seem to stretch out before us. Sometimes all we can do is count them, one by one, while we stand stuck in life, unsure how to take the next step forward.
There is the Middle East. ISIS is so brutal that we can hardly describe them to our children, their rampage so bloody that even the stories scar us.
There is the atomic bomb that to this day has devastating affects on the people of Japan.
There’s our changing climate. We watch lakes dry up in some places and torrential rains fall in others.
There is much more…
Clearly, Luke understands this darkness. Yet his desire was not to lead his listeners into despair reminding them that they are clinging to the bridge for dear life, ready to crash to the rocks below, but to announce to them that not one of our barriers could keep the Word of God from coming.
“The Word of God came to John, son of Zechariah, in the wilderness” to a tiny, faithful family, on the edge of the empire, in the wilderness, there is nothing less than the Word of God, the breath of life, the presence of the Creator. I’m not sure if Luke means this to sound like a creation story or our own story, but I suspect he wants us to know that God’s power is stirring. It is just over our shoulder, pressing us forward into a new future with the light of God shining on our path.
On this day in December, I don’t know if we’re clinging to the bridge but I do know that we have struck a match to light one more candle on the Advent wreath, and the power of that light is changing everything. Even our shadows take on a new beauty when caught by the light. It is making a way in the wilderness, making the crooked straight, and the rough places smooth, and turning the road toward Bethlehem.
To most in the world, it might not seem like much; but to us, we see in this tiny flicker of light the glory of the rising sun, the Word of God, the presence of the Spirit, coming to us in real time, in our historical time. We see the view of a future set before us that is filled with forgiveness and peace and reconciliation and love. Frankly, we see the best picture we’ll ever take.
And it turns out, we don’t have to hold on for dear life, because the life of the coming one is already holding on to us. I know it’s two weeks before Christmas. I know there is so much that stands between this day and that Holy night. There will be shopping and decorating, stress and family, wrapping and baking, joy and sadness. There will even be shorter days than today. There will be Caesar Augustus and Quirinius; there will be a long and crooked road from Nazareth to Bethlehem.
But nothing can stop this birth. The child is coming, and we will be carried to the other side–to Bethlehem, to Easter, and to that moment when all flesh shall see the salvation of God.