“A Walk in the Wilderness”
Advent 2 – December 9, 2018 – Year C
Over the years, countless numbers of hikers, cross country skiers, snow-shoers, and outdoor enthusiasts have ventured off the paths and got lost in the wilderness. Hunters and anglers have set off for a day in the woods, only to have become lost and frightened. It can be a scary experience.
Many of us have experienced the wilderness of the mind. It is a desolate and solitary time. Loneliness, depression, anxiety, and grief can all be wilderness times. Most of us understand the metaphor of the wilderness when it comes to describing one’s mental state.
Imagine wandering through a city where everyone speaks a language other than English. Wouldn’t that be a wilderness time? Or think about all the political conflict echoing across the globe and we hear the cry of wilderness. The wilderness is where the world is raw, exposed and harsh.
However, many of us crave time in the wilderness. It is a place of mystery and awe. The wilderness represents peace and serenity. When stress and busyness becomes too much, it is off to the woods for many of us. Taking time communing with nature can be restorative. This kind of wilderness experience is far different than the frightening vastness of wasteland. This wilderness is the place of radical hope. It is where we can hear the voices of prophets.
John the Baptist received his prophetic call in the desert, symbolically recalling Israel’s journey out of Egypt towards the promised land. John calls the people to make such a journey again, but this time it is a spiritual one. They are to turn away from the captivity of sins and be baptized. This journey into the Jordan will symbolize choosing God’s way and acknowledge God’s leading just like crossing the Red Sea had done in the past. Then all people will see God’s salvation. The gospel writers saw John the Baptist as the messenger described by the prophet Isaiah, the one sent by God to get the road ready.
Martin Luther King Jr., a prophet in his own right, used todays’ Luke reading in his famous “I Have a Dream” speech. Standing on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in front of thousands of people, King quoted John’s words about “making paths straight.” This is how he described what that could mean in our day, “With this faith, we will be able to work together, pray together, struggle together, go to jail together, stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day,” said King.
Prophets are the ones who call from the wilderness to tell us there is hope for something better. Some of our modern day prophets are connected with the Christian faith, and would easily place themselves in this text. Environmentalists like David Suzuki, advocates for HIV/AIDS care in South Africa such as Stephen Lewis, Peace activists like Ernie Regiers of Project Ploughshares are all modern day prophets. So too are our local visionaries, like the members of the Save the Oxbows group, the refugee transition committee members, and Pat Simons the chairperson of the Churches for Social Justice group. These are people who see what they do through different lenses, but, are nonetheless prophetic. John the Baptist set a standard for atypical prophets, leaving wide open the possibility that anyone, even a member of this church, can prepare the way of the Lord.
Living where we do, we have a unique perspective on Isaiah and John’s vision of making paths straight and leveling hills and valleys. We hear with the ears of experience “the crooked shall be made straight and the rough ways made smooth.” Driving on our local roads and highways is a matter of assent and descent, and twist and turn. There are few places in British Columbia that are not mountainous. It was with this type of typography in front of them that Isaiah and John uttered these famous words.
So, what would our world look like as we prepare for the coming again of Christ? Will our Aboriginal brothers and sisters be free from the horrors of the Residential Schools? Will our villages, towns and cities be colour blind as people of all races are treated as equals? Will we heed the warnings of scientists as they call us to conserve our resources for the sake of the planet?
What would our church be like if there were no impediments to its ministry? Would we have a Senior’s resource centre, where information and services are under our roof? Would we have a weekly supper for the hungry? Would we be a drop in centre for folk with mental illness? What can you imagine our church offering the community, if the mountains of deficit thinking and budgeting was made low? What can you envision is the ministry needs for the next 10 years, if we were not paralyzed by too few able-bodied persons? What is God calling us to be about?
Will we be daring, like John, and go to the wilderness of downtown Penticton and live out our baptism? Will we live boldly and courageously, knowing that God walks with us. It is not an uphill journey! We are each forgiven and set free to see the salvation of God. That is Good News, my friends! Amen.