by the Rev. Dr. John Fairless
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Baruch’s vision offers relief to those wearied by the cares of life; how appealing to be able to “take off the garment of sorrow and affliction” and to “put on forever the beauty of the glory from God!”
Notice particularly the contrast offered in vv. 5-6: the Israelites who suffered the ignominious loss of their homes — and their children! — now are able to imagine them coming home again. They were led away by enemy forces, but they will be led home by God.
Verse 8 is a practical reminder for each of us during this season of preparation — look back on the places in your life where God’s presence has “shaded” you during the seasons of difficulty. God has never left you, and God will be present with you still.
Malachi informs us of the coming of both the Lord that our hearts are seeking, and of his messenger who comes to prepare the way. Christians read John the Baptizer here, and Jesus, the one to be born in Bethlehem.
I am struck by the issue of time in this passage, particularly as we reflect on the “Christmas story” over the coming weeks. We see a baby born, and then what seems to us a “gap” in the life of this Christ child — who really won’t appear again until he is revealed as a man of about 30 years of age. We follow his journey of preaching, teaching, and healing for about 3 years or so — and then, just as Malachi says, suddenly he comes to the temple and his life’s work is completed in the span of about a week.
Makes me wonder just how God is suddenly at work in our midst during this season — with things that may have been happening for many years?
Famously, Zechariah’s lips have been sealed since the day it was revealed to him by God’s messenger that he would have a son in his old age. With the birth of John, the old priest truly has a song to sing — and he gives a virtuoso performance!
Zechariah connects for us the covenant promise of God, given to Abraham; the “mighty savior” raised up from David’s house; the visions of the prophets sent to God’s people; and, last but not least, this child born to tell the story of the One who would come after him.
John’s ministry would be considered by some to be that of “second fiddle” to the more important work of Jesus. But, without the second fiddle, the song would be lacking harmony, contrast, depth, and invention. Thank God we have John in the orchestra!
As Advent progresses, we consider how God’s work in the world does so, as well. It grows — it changes — it adapts — but it always continues.
There is a day in which God’s work will be finished. We wait for that Advent, as well, the “day of Jesus Christ.” In the meantime, the beautiful prayer of the apostle for the church is that love will overflow, leading us to knowledge and full insight (understanding, discerning) so that we can choose what is best.
Sounds like a winner to me!
Luke is always so precise with the details of his story. He situates John for us “precisely” in the fifteenth year of Tiberius, during the time of Pontius Pilate, Herod, Philip, Lysanias, et al.
We note that he also places John “precisely” in the midst of the wilderness, so that he can receive the word of God. (Hmmm… why couldn’t he be in a resort somewhere, or at home with the wife and kids? Maybe there’s a lesson in there for us preachers when we need to “get in touch with God?”)
That word from God is also fairly “precise;” repent of your sins, be baptized, make a straight path for God in your life.
It might well be that John’s story could and should challenge us today — cut through the “busyness” and the distractions and the plethora of unimportant (in the grand scheme of things) details that clog our minds. Stop — pay attention — get right.
Perhaps we could all do with a little “baptism” in the wilderness this season — immersed in the precise wisdom and purpose of God for our lives.
by the Rev. Dr. Delmer L. Chilton
Verse 3: “John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.”
The word “wilderness” brings a variety of things to mind. I grew up in southwest part of Virginia and in the fourth and 8th grades we studied Virginia history so when I hear the word wilderness, the first thing I think of is the “Wilderness Campaign” of 1864.
My wife is very interested in ecology and the environment and almost once a week we get an appeal for funds from some group promising some form of wilderness preservation.
In the Hebrew Scriptures, “wilderness” usually refers to the area between Egypt and the Promised Land where the children of Israel wandered around following Moses, trying to figure out what it meant to be the chosen people of God.
In the Gospels “the wilderness” meant a relatively narrow strip of desert to the east of the Jordan River. This wilderness is where both John and Jesus went to be alone with God and wrestle with their demons and to become clear about their mission; their calling. While they were in the wilderness, they were hungry and thirsty and hot and lonely and in danger of being devoured by wild beasts.
The question for us today is, “where is our wilderness?”
Where is that place where we wrestle with our demons and look deeply into the face of God and discover our mission; our calling?
As we hear the word of God come to us this day, Dec. 9, 2012, we cannot think of the wilderness as a far-off place from long ago.
It’s not in Israel’s time of exodus through the desert. That was their wilderness.
It’s not in John’s years of study and prayer in the desert. That was John’s wilderness.
It’s not in Jesus’ forty days of trial and temptation. That was Jesus’ wilderness.
Where is our wilderness? Perhaps our wilderness is the general state of the world. From war and violence in the middle-east to economic collapse in Europe to an ugly political season back here in the US to political grid-lock in DC; the world is full of evidence that it continues to be a dangerous and unpredictable place.
I open up the paper in tiny Clay County, North Carolina where I live, only 10,000 folks. Three front page news stories; 1) a drug bust of man with van full of cocaine, 2) a cold-blooded shoot out murder and 3) a young man who has been arrested for a string of violent home invasions in which he beat up old people and then took their stuff.
Violence, drugs, crime, disease, economic distress; you never know when something or someone might dart out of the shadows and get you. Is the danger of the world our wilderness?
Maybe our wilderness is the free-living and freewheeling culture in which we live. Many times we seem to have given ourselves over completely to the new Golden Rule: “The one who has the gold, rules!” All over the world a simple materialistic principle applies: if people want it and are willing to pay for it, why shouldn’t they have it?
Sex, drugs, luxuries. Questions of morals and values and quality of life are quickly drowned out by voices shouting that the market must be free; people must be free even if it means free to pursue their own destruction. Is ours a world that has completely lost its ethical bearings? Is that our wilderness?
Well, truth be told, our wilderness is exactly where it has always been; deep in the middle of each human heart. Ever since Adam and Eve were cast out of the Garden of Eden after deciding to follow their own way instead of God’s way, we have carried the wilderness with us, wherever we go.
There is no place on Earth we can go to find the peace we are looking for. And there is no place on Earth the peace of God in Christ cannot find us.
Where is our wilderness? It is in us, in our fears and failures, our sins and shortcomings, our trials and troubles and tribulations.
And where is our God? God is in our wilderness with us, deep in our lives, showing us the way.
Where is our God? God is in the Word, the word that came to John in his Wilderness, the word of scripture that we read, the word of Gospel that we preach, the word of hope and promise that calms our fears and forgives our sins.
Where is our God? God is in the waters of baptism, washing us clean from the dirt and dust of the desert, rinsing away the wastes of the wilderness. God is in the water, bathing us in the warmth of the divine love.
Where is our God? God is in the sacrament of the table; God is feeding us on God’s self in the midst of our wilderness; giving us holy food and drink so that we may carry on with our journey.
Where is our God? God is here, in this community of wilderness wanderers, from the youngest to the oldest, from the wisest to the silliest, from the biggest to the smallest, from the most saintly to the most sinful. God is here, calling us together and calling us forward in our Advent journey out of the wilderness into the kingdom.
Amen and amen.