“Invitations from the Advent Wilderness!”

Second Sunday of Advent 8 December 2019
(Isaiah 11:1-10 Psalm 72 Romans 15:4-13 Matthew 3:1-12)

“Invitations from the Advent Wilderness!”

He’s rugged! He’s wild! He’s not very polite! He likes to dunk people in cold water! He’s clear about who he is! He’s passionate about what he believes! He’s courageous about what he is doing! He’s a big daunting-looking dude wearing a shirt made of camel’s hair! He’s a guy who lives out in the wilderness, and munches on locusts! In a word, he is scary! He is, of course, John the Baptist!

It is hard for me to comprehend a WORSE person to pave the way for Jesus’ coming. I mean, wouldn’t you want someone more approachable for such a job? Somebody with decent grooming skills? Someone who takes a bath at least once in awhile? Somebody with a good sales pitch worth listening to? I guess he coined the phrase “you brood of vipers” when people showed up, but I’m really glad these words are not part of our welcome statement here at St. James!

But let’s slow down! John may not have worn the most expensive camel’s hair loin cloth and $200 Nike sandals, but he did have an incredible sales pitch. Listen again to how Matthew describes John’s message: “There is one more powerful than I coming after me; I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire” [Matt. 3:11].

Here is this beyond-the-edge wilderness man speaking about somebody even more outside-the-box than is he, this next guy who is coming soon—someone more powerful, more gripping. In other words, John is saying, “If you think I’m wild, just wait!”

So what do we do with John the Baptist on this Second Sunday of Advent? My answer is that we put him right into the Advent story next to Isaiah, Joseph and Mary, and we listen to what he has to say!

Now at this point is where I want to do something different than what you are used to be doing in a sermon. This is where I want this sermon to become reflective, personal, communal, and uncomfortable—all at the same time. In Spiritual Direction we call this “doing our inner work.”

Put your cell phones down next to you—the text messages will wait. Put on hold what you are dreaming you’ll have for breakfast after church is over. Come with John the Baptist into the wilderness—your wilderness.

I will guide you by asking some wilderness question: [if you wish to close your eyes, that is fine!]

• Where is there emptiness in your life right now?
• What worries are controlling your life?
• What are you unsure of?
• Where are your fears?
• What are your fears?
• Is there a life-decision hanging over you?
• A medical diagnosis?
• A struggling relationship?
• A family conflict?
• A work-related disagreement?
• Is there bleakness about your future?
• What is the shame that is destroying you?
• Where is the emptiness/wilderness in your life right now?

Regardless of what is your wilderness, there is One coming—has come— who is more powerful than your fears, your worries, your struggles!

To observe Advent, I believe, is to lean into the incomplete, the conflicted, the suffering and dark areas of our lives, those areas of our lives where our deep desire is for things to be made right.

I believe that Advent holds space for our conflicts, our suffering, and our grief. Advent also reminds us that all of us, in one way or another, are not only wounded by the world, but we all sometimes contribute to our own moments of unkindness, selfishness or brokenness with another.

It is in our own emptiness, in this wilderness of Advent where John’s baptism offered new meaning to people who were deeply aching and desperate for hope. There is one more question for you this morning. In Spiritual Direction, for me, this the most important question I ask. The question is this: what is God inviting you to in the wilderness times of your lives? What is the invitation?

If God is truly Emmanuel [God-with-us], then there is always an invitation to us from God when we are in our wilderness times!

We are each one of us wounded people! We are a fragile humanity! And we can’t make ourselves any happier on Christmas by pretending this is not so! Let’s not egg-nog ourselves into denial! I’m all for partying during the holidays, but before we become inebriated with tinsel, we need John the Baptist. We need John the Baptist to help us take a long, loving look at what is fractured in our world and in our lives—and in so-doing, to re-align our lives with the God who is coming!

So here’s the thing: You and I (our culture) we tend to sanitize Christmas. Take a look at any nativity scene—the one up on the Square, the one under your Christmas tree, even the ones out in the Clapper Cabinet—and you won’t see any Grizzly Adams-looking figure stuck in there among the cleanly-shaven shepherds and wise men.

But John the Baptist is as much part of the Christmas story as are any of those figures. He takes us into our wilderness! He reminds us that the Advent story can be a little scary, but—now that he has our attention—he also reminds us that love is always stronger than fear. He’s the voice in the wilderness of our lives—and he is all about hope.

And the real guy, the real guy, “the one who is more powerful, the one who will baptize with the Holy Spirit and with fire” the One who loves us so much that He will give his life for us—that guy, He’s coming real soon! Thanks be to God! Amen.

One thought on ““Invitations from the Advent Wilderness!”

  1. A very interesting sermon and one that is often told during every Advent season. You ask “The question is this: what is God inviting you to in the wilderness times of your lives? What is the invitation?” That answer is in the gospel text you read- REPENT. Repent was the first word of John in today’s Gospel, the first word of Jesus’ gospel, the first word of the ministry of the twelve disciples, the first word of Paul through his ministry, and on and on so it should not be treated lightly. But it is hard to take for most Christians. We must face the reality that Advent, which is penitential, is very much out-of-synch with the prevailing mood of Christmas, our most joyful celebration of the year.

    By the way the phrase “you brood of vipers” was directed at the Pharisees and Sadducees, the clergy of that day, who were often hypocrites in their practice, neglecting the spirit of the law for outward observance and lining their own pockets rather than taking care of the widows, orphans, and the poor. The Jewish leaders thought that the Messiah would come with judgment, but only against Israel’s enemies.

    Sojourners (23 Dec 2013) has an interesting article on “Ten things you can’t do at Christmas while following Jesus” which will give churches and congregational members ideas for celebrating Christmas and answers to your questions about what do to in wilderness times of our lives. In fact it would be a great sermon itself.

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