This sermon was preached on Sunday December 06, 2009 at Douglass Blvd Christian Church.
In the fifteenth year of the reign of Emperor Tiberius, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was ruler of Galilee, and his brother Philip ruler of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias ruler of Abilene, during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness. He went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, as it is written in the book of the words of the prophet Isaiah, “The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth; and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.'”
Today’s text is sort of like walking into a conversation sans a frame of reference. Sort of like a child wandering in to the middle of a movie. We have this precise picture painted of the world surrounding John the Baptizer by the Gospel writer. The stage is set to offer that the Word of God emerges from the most unlikely of places. Here in our text the Word of God emerges in the wilderness away from the seat of Roman power in the voice of a crazy naked guy that eats bugs.
We are all aware of what happened to get to this point. Zechariah, a high priest, and his wife Elizabeth were getting along in there days and had no children. One day Zechariah was serving God in the temple by burning incense as everyone prayed. Offering incense was an honor and perhaps was performed by a priest once in their lifetime if they got to do it at all.
While inside the Holy grounds of the temple an angle came to Zechariah and told him that Elizabeth was pregnant and that this child would prepare the way for the coming Messiah. Zechariah was speechless…literally. Zechariah came out of the temple unable to speak and could not offer the blessing to the people. The Word of God was prepared in the absence of voice.
Voice, speaking, Word, and language are important. “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth…then God said, ‘Light: Be!’ and light was.” God speaks creation into existence. It is God’s voice that forms and shapes the shapeless void into the world to which we exist. God’s voice is awe-inspiring. God’s voice is beyond comprehension.
We live in a world that was spoken into creation. A voice cries out in the wilderness, calling us to open our eyes and see that transformation is available. A voice cries out in the wilderness, beckoning us to heed the WORD and “BE”. “In the beginning was the Word; the Word was in God’s presence, and the Word was present with God from the beginning. Through the Word all things came into being, and apart from the Word nothing came into being.” Let the Word be spoken.
Language is important to us as Christians. It is the spoken word that imparts the good news to a world in dire need of good. Jesus’ ministry to the world spoke truth to the injustice that forced the margins. Speaking, language, and word are important to faith. Without the ability to speak, the gift of language, and the blessings of Word we cannot build communities of faith, we cannot be church, we cannot combat the injustice that surrounds us and we cannot witness the good news of Jesus the Christ. Language, speech, and word are the building blocks of faith.
Ever since the tower of Babel we use language to our advantage. This is the beauty of the Word made flesh…that the Christ appears physically and meets all where they are. Advent prepares us to meet this contextual fleshy God of faith, hope, joy, and love.
The season of Advent calls us to listen to God speak. When we listen to the Word of God we are compelled to speak of the faith, hope, joy, and love that fill our hearts as we anticipate the coming of the Christ child. God delivers to us salvation in swaddling clothes, a baby mumbling faith, hope, joy, and love.
We cannot help but to listen to the thundering orders of God in the clouds. God in the large dramatic moments, like those depicted in Hollywood’s vision of Moses up on the mountain receiving the commandments.
Gods “absence” is also witnessed. Ask those that endure hardship in relationships, financial difficulty, or the loss of a loved one. God’s powerful voice can seem as a deafening silence. Ask Zechariah and Elizabeth…God’s presence seemed almost comical to Zechariah when he was told he would be a father and perhaps seemed unbearable for Elizabeth that she would be a mother.
We live in a world polarized, seemingly unable to sit in the middle or rest in the mystery of uncertainty. A voice cries out in the wilderness. In the wilderness that crying voice is God’s whispers…Are we afraid of a whispering God? Can we embrace a God that stares us in our frightful eyes only to return nothing but compassion? Can we fathom a God that weeps with us in our sorrow? Can we embrace an infant God that whispers in the wilderness? For God is not comprised of any particular extreme. God is all and in all. God just is.
For God Advent looks a lot like the proud eyes of a parent gazing upon their children excited to deliver a gift as much as Advent looks like the eyes of a parent as they worry about providing the next meal for their children. God rests in woes and joys. God walks time absent of it grip.
Advent is a space where time is no longer relevant. Time ceases to exist as we welcome the mumbling God speaking gibberish that breed’s creation. The gaga talk that reconciles as it reveals faith, hope, joy, and love. A God that whispers lovingly in our ears…Are we afraid of a whispering God?
I hope not…it is the whispers of God that fill us with life. In those whispers God speaks compassion towards the Other and nurtures the soul. In whispers God redeems us. In whispers God holds us, whispering lullabies as we are soundly transformed as a part of the community of Christ brought into the wilderness of God.
In our pervading culture there is no whisper during the advent season. We encounter advent framed by the hustle and bustle of Black Friday & a mad scramble to get us to be more consumer than producer. Everywhere you look folks are screaming and are in a hurry. It seems like we are fighting for survival. Our minds focused upon tending to the needs or wants we or our family have, forgetting about others.
There was this little girl. She wanted a pony for Christmas. She wanted that pony more than anything else. All she talked about was that pony. One day she set out to write her letter to Santa. She began her letter, “Dear Santa, I have been really good this year…” She paused and crumpled the letter. She was gonna need to go to a higher authority on this one. She began another letter this time it read, “Dear God, I have been really, really good this year. All I want is a pony.” She paused again realizing that God already knew how good or bad she had been that year. She went down stairs to the nativity in the living room and carefully took out Mary and placed her lovingly in a towel. She folded it over and placed it in her sock drawer. She began a new letter this time saying, “Dear Jesus, If you ever want to see your mother again I’d like a pony…”
This is what has happened to Advent. Advent has become the lovingly placed hostage in the negotiations of our wants and desires. We have focused on the thundering voice of God or become mired in the “absence” of God. We have ignored the whispers of God as we have sought to tame the wilderness of life.
A voice cries out in the wilderness. John was a wild person. John did not walk the margins of life. John was that grinding grain of sand in your shoe. John lived in the wilderness whispering the Word of God. In this wilderness John offered a new direction. John’s actions pointed to the Christ.
John was another crazy, wilderness loving prophet of God in the line of Jeremiah, Isaiah, Ezekiel, and Malachi. God has a thing for crazy wilderness loving prophets. I think it is because God loves the wilderness because wilderness is where we grow.
The wilderness is that place of untamed creatures and unknown adventure. It takes a lot of faith to dwell in the wilderness. Advent is the wilderness of the liturgical year. Look at Zechariah and Elizabeth. Elizabeth is pregnant in her latter years and Zechariah can’t speak about what the angle told him about his soon to be born son, John. They are in a place of great anticipation. They are in the wilderness surrounded by uncertainty and adventure with the Spirit of God moving all around them. I imagine they are pretty excited. I bet they are as excited as they are scared or nervous.
The wilderness is not a comfortable place to be. The Israelites wandered the wilderness for 40 years and complained for 40 years. Jesus was drawn to the wilderness where he was tempted by the trappings of human fate. The early church fathers and mothers were drawn to the wilderness to test their physical endurance and drawn nearer to God as they sought to witness and understand the whispering God of the wilderness.
When you go into the wilderness you prepare for it. People that just pick up and go into the wilderness have a slim chance of returning. When John the Baptizer went to the wilderness he had a direct call to wander in the wilderness drawing attention to the whispering God. The Israelites took all of their stuff and had Moses to guide them. Jesus has the Spirit of God and a calling that we could never understand.
This community of faith is also in the wilderness. We stand at a crossroads. Our world is filled with uncertainty and adventure as the Spirit of God swirls around us. There is an excitement here that only exists in the wilderness. As we enter the wilderness we must prepare and we must be alert.
This community has witnessed the thunderous roar of God as much as it has heard the deafening silence of God. We bear the tales of faith woven in our own faith stories. We are products of the wilderness. We are standing in the wilderness focused on the whispers of God.
These whispers guide us to stand in the gap for justice. We lend our voice to rid this city of crime and violence that plagues our youth and parts of our city. We speak out against the oppressive legislation that prevents some of our sisters and brothers from true equality. We use our words to draw attention to a better way of life, a way sheltered in service to others and nurtured in the communal bonds of family. We have a history of wandering in the wilderness. We have set up camp in the wilderness and dare not depart until all of our family; all of Gods children can enter into the glory.
There is a saying in Mexico, “El que calla otorga” [Who is silent consents]. Sisters and brothers we cannot be silent for God is calling us to speak the good news as we anticipate the gift of the Christ child. We cannot consent with injustice, oppression and systems that treat God’s children as cogs in a machine. We are wild things roaming the wilderness looking for a whispering God. The whispers of a compassionate God speaking of the Other and nurturing our soul. The whispers of a redeeming God. The whispers of a God that holds us, whispering lullabies as we are soundly transformed as a part of the community of Christ brought into the wilderness of God.
As Advent surrounds us and the wilderness of God awakens the Spirit within us let us not seek the thunder or absence of God. Let us open our hearts to the whispering God that mumbles speaking gibberish that breed’s creation. May we find a place for our uncertainty with the whispering God that cries out in the wilderness with gaga talk that reconciles as it reveals faith, hope, joy, and love. Let us find a God that whispers lovingly in our ears…Are you afraid of a whispering God?