Second Sunday of Advent – December 9, 2018
Trinity, Worcester
Text:  Luke 3:1-6

Watch here (minute 23:50). 

In the name of Jesus. Amen.

The first thing I do when I go into a hotel room is pull back the curtains and check out the view. I love a good view.

My bedroom as a boy had a great view. It was not a mountain view – it was the view from a farmhouse in Iowa on flat farmland.  From my second story bedroom  I could see 5 miles east to the town of Readlyn and 5 miles north to the tower that stood at the intersection of Highway 63 and the blacktop that led by my aunt & uncle’s farm.

The thing about a view is that it allows you to see how things fit together. I love views from airplanes for that reason – especially landing and take-off. The view from 35,000 feet is boring – everything down below looks the same. But, the view on take-off and landing is exciting and interesting! Flying low over Worcester, or Boston, or Chicago, or even Eastern Iowa you can see the details of houses and roads and playgrounds and backyard swimming pools and soccer fields.

You can see how things fit together – that’s what a good view does.

With this in mind, we come to today’s Gospel reading. Today’s Gospel tells us where we can find a great view of God’s work. We can get a good view of God’s work in the wilderness.

It was in the wilderness, a place we can assume was a place of isolation and separation cut off from the rest of society, that John was able to experience God’s Word.

It was in the wilderness that the Word of God first came to John, to give John a view of the Messiah to come.

In the wilderness, outside the temple, apart from the hustle and bustle of towns and cities, disconnected from comforts and conveniences, that God spoke to John granting a John a view of God’s work in Jesus Christ.

On this Second Sunday of Advent, as we consider God’s Word coming to John in the wilderness, we are invited to consider the view from the wilderness. What is God speaking to us in the wildernesses of our lives? From the wilderness, what view do we have of God’s work in our lives in Christ Jesus?

It must be said, that wildernesses come in all shapes and sizes. The defining feature is that in them we are cut off, separated from that which we once held close. But in this wilderness space, in faith, we are invited to see in new ways how God’s plan of salvation fits together.

Let me give you an example from my own life …

And this truly demonstrates that wildernesses come in all shapes and forms and perhaps in surprising places.

For me, the wilderness was a laser tag maze in Dedham, Massachusetts on the Friday after Thanksgiving. Jason had family in town from Canada and Australia and they wanted to play laser tag. I agreed to go, because I had never played laser tag. I was curious.

The first thing that happened was the 15 of us who were playing, about half family members ranging in age from 8-years-old to about 60-years-old, the other half intimidating looking teenagers whose fingers looked fast on the trigger, was that we were briefed on the rules in small room.

We had to repeat the rules outloud: no running, no kneeling, no hiding, no covering the sensors on our vests. After that was done, we then went into the next room and put on our vests with lights flashing our chests, shoulders, and backs. I put mine on backwards and the worker helped me put it on correctly. And then, just like that, the door opened and we were off into the maze.

The room was dark, the black walls painted with dark green trees to make it look like a jungle.  Everyone scattered and I was left there all alone, except for shadows of people, lights flashing on their vests, appearing briefly to “tag” (shoot) me, and then disappear around the corner.

When you’re “tagged” (hit) your vest vibrates and your gun goes blank for 5 seconds. And so I’m in there looking around, and my vest keeps vibrating. I keep getting hit. I’m getting hit from behind, from in front, from above, it seemed like everyone could see me, and I couldn’t see anyone.

At one point I found Jason, and I suggested we team up and work together.  That lasted for a minute or so before he got bored and went off on his own. Again, I was all alone.

I couldn’t help but think of all those who have faced real bullets. especially in the lonely and far off places in Vietnam, or Iraq, or Afghanistan. I can’t begin to imagine the trauma that does on people who are in those situations. May God bless all who have survived physically, but who suffer mentally and emotionally even after their return home.

Granted, the Laser Tag Maze was a brief and safe “Wilderness.” But, in those 10 minutes of being cut off, and isolated, and alone, I experienced a powerful view.  I saw in a new way the value of teamwork and companionship. I realized, I was no lone gunman.

In fact, when we decided to do a second round. I volunteered to team up with the 8-year-old son of Jason’s cousin to go back in together as a team. He had been so overwhelmed and lonely, and an easy target, the first time in, he left the first game crying.

Together we went back in the second time.  We claimed a position in a tower and had each other’s backs. The truth is, from a score perspective, I didn’t do much better the second time – again I finished about in the middle of the pack when the scores were presented on the screen after we were done.

But, the second game was much more enjoyable for both of us. After the second game, he left with a smile on his face eager to tell his dad how he had done. I left having experienced an important view of Christ’s work in my life: a view of teamwork, and companionship, and the joy of working with others on complicated tasks.

We get important views from the wilderness.

Tomorrow is the 70th Anniversary of the adoption of the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights. In the aftermath of World War II, in the wilderness of unimaginable evil and the death of millions of Jews in concentration camps in Europe in which global community was cut off from assumptions about the limits of human evil, in the wilderness of pain, agony, displacement, relocation, and death caused by war, vital clarity was achieved:

Every life matters.
Every life should be protected with rights.
Every life fits into global community and deserved protection.

For seventy years the Declaration of Human Rights has come close to serving as international law as it has provided an important view of the rights and dignity of every human.

What wilderness do you find yourself in today?  How do you find yourself cut of and separated from that which you once held dear?

The wilderness of disease and illness – cut off from health and vitality?

The wilderness of failure, of disappointment, of setbacks – cut off from promotions, advancement, and long held dreams?

The wilderness of loneliness, relationship loss, or estrangement – cut off from loved ones, companionship, and friendship?

With the eyes of faith, as the Word of God comes upon you in your wilderness, consider the view. What clarity are you are seeing? What insights are you being granted? What is important?  What is less important? Where and how is Christ working in your life?

The Good News today, is that God is present in the wilderness with you and speaks in the wilderness!  

Far too often people experience the wilderness as the absence of God. The Good News today, however, in God speaking to John in the wilderness, and John speaking God’s word in the wilderness, is that Christ Jesus is in the wilderness! Though scriptures tell us Jesus went into the wilderness for 40 days and 40 nights to be tempted before leaving the wilderness to begin his public ministry, in reality, the ministry of Jesus was a wilderness ministry:

  • In the wilderness of rejection – Christ was born among animals in a stable as a sign of inclusion.
  • In the wilderness of exclusion – Christ ate with sinners and tax collectors as a sign of mercy.
  • In the wilderness of sickness and disease – Christ healed the sick as a sign of the kingdom of God.
  • In the wilderness of betrayal – Christ died a condemned criminal on the cross while forgiving those who put him there as a sign of forgiveness
  • In the wilderness of death – Christ sprung from the tomb as a proclamation of God’s power of life over death.

In whatever wilderness you find yourself in today … God is with you in Christ!

Though cut off from things you may have held dear – you are not cut off from God … God is with you in Christ!

Though the wilderness may seem overwhelming, confusing, and frightening – hear the words of the angels:  Do not fear! God is with you in Christ!   

Washed in the water, fed with the bread and cup, we are granted the promise that nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. No matter how cut off, separated, and isolated from whatever else you may have once held dear, you are not cut off from God’s love in Christ Jesus our Lord.

And so friends, on this day, find hope, comfort, and joy in the knowledge that you are not alone in the wilderness. In faith, know that God is with you in Christ. Receive the view, the clarity, the insight of God speaking life to you in the wilderness.

And, finally, if there is no view, if it’s only fog and clouds, in faith cling to the hope that Christ is with you in the wilderness! In faith, know that Christ Jesus is holding you, sustaining you, and is leading you.

Thanks be to God.