The Rev. Jeunée Godsey Isaiah 40:1-11
St. Michael’s Episcopal Church Mark 1:1-8
2 Advent B Dec. 10, 2017
I’m glad you all are here despite the snow on the ground. I was surprised on Friday with how much we had come down, and then concerned by how it would be by this morning. It made my Saturday pretty much of a snow day, even though the streets were pretty clear. There is something about the quiet hush when it snows that can bring a sense of peace. Hush, Quiet, and Peace are good words for advent.
In a sense, Advent is kind of like a snow day for the soul. A time to break the everyday routine and rush around us, a time to be more reflective. It’s a time to take the break in routine to clean out and prepare. Just like a snow day is good day to bake some cookies or clean out a closet, Advent is a good time to clean out space in our lives and hospitably prepare for Jesus to come to us.
I also think that the snow brings a sense of wildness, or wilderness to our urban and suburban lives. Nature reigns supreme. We are not in control.
Today’s lessons talk about the wilderness.
The prophet’s voice cries out: “In the wilderness, prepare the way of the Lord.”
We hear that cry come from Isaiah and echoed in the words and actions of John the Baptizer.
Advent is a time of waiting and preparation for the coming of the Messiah.
The scripture tell us that it is in the wilderness that we make that preparation.
“A voice cries out:
‘In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD,
make straight in the desert a highway for our God.’”
So where is the wilderness in your life?
Understanding the wilderness is key to understanding the history of Israel – God’s people. The wilderness in the Bible is the desert. It was a barren place, an untamed area. Dangers came in the form of wild animals, and the scarcity of food and water.
The wilderness was a place to enter for a while, to travel through, but not a place to settle down.
But the wilderness is more than a geographical place. Biblical scholar James Brooks describes it this way:
“The wilderness is the place where God meets,,…. reveals himself to,….. tests,…. and saves his people.
Salvation traditionally comes from the wilderness. Moses Elijah, and David all had to flee to the wilderness. Likewise, Jesus will emerge from the wilderness [after his temptation] to begin preaching the good news and will return there several times [to seek God in prayer.]
It was in the wilderness that God tested the people
and it was in the wilderness that they rebelled.
It was in the wilderness that God saved them again and again,
and the wilderness was the crucible where they became a nation.
The wilderness was both a route to the Promised Land and a place of exile.
It was a place where people sinned and where they also repented
to restore their relationship with God.”
In Isaiah, the prophet is speaking to Israel’s exiles, who because of their ancestors unfaithfulness, had been conquered by Babylon.
John the Baptizer is preaching in the wilderness to people who have turned their worship of God into systems of self-serving, politically anemic, ritual keeping.
So where is your wilderness?
I think there three ways we end up in spiritual wilderness:
- We wander into the wilderness on the wrong path
- We are carried into the wilderness by life’s circumstances
- Or We seek the wilderness as time apart.
Reflect on your own spiritual journey. When you have experienced desert places or wilderness times, have you wandered there? Been carried there? Sought it out?
Many times we find ourselves in the wilderness because we ourselves have wandered off the path and out to the desert. All sorts of sinful behavior can get us off the path. You can fill in the blank with your favorite “sin du jour”.
Sin clouds the navigational abilities of our conscience, and can begin to recalibrate our moral compass to something other than the true North of God’s direction.
In our liturgy we confess things “done and left undone” and “not loving God with our whole heart.” So, sometimes when we wander off the path into the wilderness, it’s not because we are living a notoriously sinful life, but that we have gotten distracted and lost our way. We do not love God with our whole heart. We have made other things a priority.
But either way, whether out of sinful action or sinful negligence, it’s still sin. Sin is what separates us from God. The thing about wandering off into the wilderness through our own sin, things done and left undone, is that we sometimes don’t recognize we are there, because our busy lives keep us isolated from our own souls and from God. But if we’re lucky, we will wake up, recognize we are lost, and desire to get back to God.
If you recognize that you are in a wilderness place due to your own wandering, ask yourself, How does God want you to prepare for him – to make a highway for him that will lead to you to salvation and wholeness?
“Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low;
the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain.”
Perhaps there’s some road work that you need to do. Hills to knock down, Pot holes to fill in. Obstacles that you need to remove from the path. The Good News is that we don’t have to slog our way through the wilderness on our own to prepare for the King. When we repent or turn around toward God, and ask for forgiveness, then God’s spirit helps us build a better way and keep us on God’s path.
I like to think of repentance and forgiveness of sins as getting us using the right map. It lets us make a U turn and get on the right track.
There are times we all wander into the wilderness under our own power. But sometimes the wilderness you and I experience is not a wilderness of our own making. Sometimes we are carried there.
A lot of people experience a desert time with God when they encounter struggles in their life: A family member’s illness, loss of a job, the death of a dream.
The lament of this kind of wilderness is “Where is God? Where is God when I most need him?”
We echo the Israelites complaint with Moses in the desert. “Did you bring us out to this wilderness to die?”
But if we are faithful, God blesses us with manna each morning to sustain us and water from the rock to refresh us. As the passage we heard from Isaiah says, “He will feed his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms, and carry them in his bosom,
and gently lead the mother sheep.”
God will provide for your needs one day at a time. It may sometimes feel like we are wandering around aimlessly, but God uses our time in the wilderness to strengthen us.
God meets us in the midst of the wilderness. Sometimes we have a hard time seeing where God is in the wilderness we’ve been carried into, until that crisis period in our lives is over, and we can look back and see how God led us and provided for us. Often that will happen through the people God gives us, our brothers and sisters in the community of faith.
Sometimes we wander off the right path into the wilderness, and Sometimes we are carried out and dumped there by difficult circumstances. These are times when we experience the desert as difficult, brutal, and lonely. In these times, we can feel far from God. But other times, when you seek out the wilderness intentionally, you can find it to be a time of greater closeness with God. This is the wilderness of retreat, of intentional solitude, of quiet prayer time. The People of Judea went out into the desert to find John the Baptizer. They were looking for something that he was offering and pointing to. Their hearts and souls were thirsty for a renewed relationship with God.
When the daily practice of your faith begins to run dry, and you feel disconnected, it may be time to find some intentional wilderness time with God. Take a quiet day or a weekend away on retreat. Even just dedicating a whole morning to a prayerful time hiking in the woods in silence can help you hear God’s voice in the wilderness. Jesus often took time away, early in the morning, to go out in the desert to pray. This is the intentional wilderness. In that wilderness, you can examine the path you are on. It can be a time of road preparation. You will gain a better understanding of the paths that will lead you to worship and to serve, to love God and love your neighbor, and love yourself, and the time of reflection can help you straighten out any crooked places.
If you’ve never intentionally sought the wilderness to find God, Advent is a good time to do that. Like I said, it can be like a snow day for the soul.
No matter how we find ourselves in the wilderness, whether we’ve wandered there, been carried there, or sought it out, it is a place we can prepare and expect to meet God. There, God will bring Comfort to his people. There, God will save. Amen.