Sunday, December 07, 2008

Sermon, Advent 2B, Isaiah 40:1-11, Mark 1:1-8

The wilderness is a major part of today's readings. When you hear "wilderness," what do you envision? Thinking physically, if you hunt or hike or camp, certainly you think about the back country, up in the mountains or out far away from people. Thinking biblically, you certainly think about Moses asking Pharaoh to allow the Israelites to worship in the wilderness, or the 40 years of wandering after their escape from Egypt, or of John proclaiming his message, or of the temptation of Jesus. We see the wilderness as solitary, desolate and dangerous.

But what if we think about the wilderness theologically; how does that change our view? What happens when we go into the theological wilderness? The Israelites wanted to go into the wilderness for three days to worship God and eventually spent 40 years wandering in the wilderness with God. John proclaimed his message in the wilderness that God was near. Jesus went into the wilderness to be tempted and, in a sense, was with God. I have heard many people tell me that they don't go to church because they'd rather spend time in the wilderness quietly with God. What happens when we go into the theological wilderness is that we meet God. In theological terms, the wilderness is where God is.

Not only is the wilderness where God is, but it is also where people proclaim the presence of God. Hear again the words from Isaiah: "In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord." The prophet isn't talking about creating an interstate highway for God's chariots. The prophet is talking about preparing the way of the Lord in people's lives. He is talking about preparing people to follow the Lord. He is talking about allowing God to meet us, and allowing us to meet God, in our own wilderness, in ourselves.

John does the same thing. He is in the wilderness proclaiming a baptism of repentance. He is in the wilderness proclaiming God is near. And all the people of Jerusalem were going out to hear him. They were going out to hear the message of God, to repent of their sins and to be baptized into new life. They were going out into the wilderness to meet God.

The wilderness is a major part of today's readings; but so is proclamation. We may meet God in the wilderness, but somebody has to tell us where to look. A voice cries out, "Prepare the way of the Lord . . . Here is your God!" And there is John, baptizing and proclaiming in the wilderness. Proclamation is important.

Pay attention to how Mark starts his gospel: "The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. As it is written in the prophet Isaiah . . ." There is no nativity scene. There is no birth story. There is no genealogy. There are no shepherds or Wise Men. The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ doesn't even begin with Jesus Christ -- it starts with a proclamation.

And that is how it should be. It is what we subscribe to in our baptismal covenant: Will you proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ? And it is part of our five-point mission statement: Invite and Inform. Those two items imply proclamation. The simple fact of the matter is that the good news of Jesus Christ begins with proclamation.

We cannot simply paint the doors red and expect people to show up. We cannot simply put an Episcopal Church sticker on our car and hope people will follow us to church. We cannot simply smile at people and hope they will ask us where we go to church. We must proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ. We must actively tell people and invite them. We must let it be known from a high mountain, with strength of voice and without fear, "Here is your God!"

And where do they -- where do we -- meet God? Right here, in the wilderness. The Church, this church, is the wilderness. It's where we go to meet God. It is where God can be found.

People sometimes think that the church should be a warm, safe, comfortable place where all our needs are met and where we are fed. And sometimes it is. But make no mistake about it, this is where God is; and God is to be found in the wilderness.

In this part of the world, we are surrounded by the beauty and majesty of God's wilderness. We can get up into the mountains. We can go for long hikes. We can scale high peaks and take in their panoramic view of God's creation. But we also know that if we aren't prepared or aren't careful, and even sometimes when we are, the wilderness can kill you. It's beautiful. It's majestic. And it can be deadly. I'm reminded here of what was said of Aslan, the Christ figure in the Narnia series: "After all, he's not a tame lion."

This is what Mark is trying to tell us. The good news begins with proclamation. But that proclamation comes with a price. John proclaimed and was killed for it. Jesus proclaimed and was killed for it. Let me say it again: Proclaiming the gospel comes with a price. John paid that price. Jesus paid that price. And following their examples, we can see that we also might pay that price.

We are to proclaim the gospel of Jesus because that's where it starts. We proclaim it and allow people to find a place to meet God. That place of meeting God, that place where God is, is right here. This is the wilderness. This place is both beautiful and dangerous; and it just might kill you.


Father John | 10:39 AM, December 09, 2008  

Liked this one... reminded me of the following quote...

The desert is the threshold to the meeting ground of God and man. It is the scene of the exodus. You do not settle there, you pass through. One then ventures on to these tracks because one is driven by the Spirit towards the Promised Land. But it is only promised to those who are able to chew sand for forty years without doubting their invitation to the feast in the end.

Alessandro Pronzato

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