For today, the second Sunday in the Advent season, we continue our theme of “watching and waiting…”. We began our Advent season last week with “watching and waiting… in desperation” and today we turn to “watching and waiting… in preparation.”
What, exactly, should we be doing to prepare for the birth of Jesus Christ? Of course, at Christmas, we not only celebrate the historic birth of a Savior, but the present re-birth of that Lordship in our lives today, as well as the future coming of the King.
Our texts, both Old Testament (Isaiah 40:1-11) and New Testament (Mark 1:1-8) bring images of the wilderness… and a voice of a prophet crying out for all to prepare. “A voice of one crying in the wilderness – ‘Prepare the way of the Lord!'”. The prophet here is John the Baptist, a rough wilderness survivor, clothed in a garment woven from camel’s hair, with a leather belt, and living off of locusts and wild honey. He is shown as a forerunner. He is proclaiming the imminent arrival of one far greater than himself. The arrival of this Messiah demands preparation – and that involves heart preparation. He is calling people out to the desert in order to be baptized in water as a symbol of one’s confession of sin.
While there are many different possible angles to focus on in this brief text, I wish to look together at the image of “wilderness” in order to give us a hint as to our own necessary advent preparation.
- In scripture the wilderness is quite literally a “wild” place – maybe not the kind of wilderness that we sometimes imagine (a beautiful national park where one can enjoy camping and hiking?)
- It is a brutal, difficult environment where survival itself is almost impossible.
- In scripture, the wilderness is usually NOT a place one would choose to go.
- In the Bible, either you end up there because of your own sin and mistakes.. or you’re led there in order to receive training of some kind. Examples abound… the people of Israel wandering in the wilderness for 40 years; Jesus fasting and praying for 40 days prior to his public ministry.
- Yet, in scripture the wilderness is also where God meets people. Where people meet God. God leads the Israelites through Moses in the wilderness. Jesus prays and fasts, and in the end experiences tempting and victory in the wilderness. Jesus’ baptism concludes with the Holy Spirit descending on Him in the form of a dove. God meets and saves Hagar (and Ishmael) in the wilderness when they were all but lost.
Why is this important for us?
- The wilderness exposes our complete helplessness and powerlessness. Without help from outside – we perish.
- The wilderness forces us to focus…and return to basics; away from the city and all of its busy-ness, conveniences, and distractions. In this brutal environment we have a better chance of becoming quiet and focused – of considering our own lives. Pride and arrogance give way to humility and openness. John the Baptist called people out from Jerusalem and they came out to the desert – where he baptized them; a water baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.
- Biblically, the wilderness represents a place where we meet God. Helplessness, focus, humility, and repentance; all leading to a work of the Holy Spirit in our lives. From adversity…comes comfort and spiritual awakening.
How can this help us?
- Many of us feel that we have been wandering in a kind of wasteland – a wilderness for the past 10 months.
- 10 months of pandemic have left many without work, without hope, without health. 2020 has been a year of pandemic racism as well as COVID. We are politically divided as a country and we don’t seem to know which direction we are heading.
- For some the result is anxiety – for others – depression.
- The list of difficulties and stresses goes on and on…
But is it possible during Advent 2020 – that we could embrace this wilderness that we are experiencing? I don’t mean to be happy about all that’s gone on – but I do mean to more fully accept it as our present journey, one that is vitally important for our own lives and hearts. We certainly did not choose all the outcomes of this year. We didn’t ask for this wilderness. But can we at least recognize the following?
- We, too, sense our own helplessness and powerlessness. And that’s a good thing. Without help from someone – we too will perish. Of course we seek a vaccine, and perhaps even financial assistance from the government. But we also seek a Savior – a messiah.
- These difficult times cause us to focus on what is truly important – to consider some heart preparation, some repentance – to take a hard look at ourselves. We can get rid of arrogance and pride, and seek a more humble heart. John’s message to repent and be baptized is still valid.
- And finally, can we truly expect to meet God in a new way in this wilderness? God has not left us. The Holy Spirit is still leading us. What new things can we expect? Will there be light at the end of this tunnel?
And so we watch and wait in preparation:
- We prepare by embracing the wilderness we are experiencing
- We prepare by humbling our hearts and confessing our sins
- We prepare by expecting a work of the Holy Spirit in our lives.
COME, LORD JESUS!
(the above is a summary of our message shared during our zoom worship session on December 6, 2020.)