Last Sunday followers and proclaimers using the RCL had one serious apocalyptic gospel text: terrific happenings in the heavens, in the seas, etc. It was literally an end that offered a beginning.
This week the Luke 3 text gives another chance to take a look at another end that offers another beginning:
“1In 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, 2during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness. 3He went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, 4as 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. 5Every 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; 6and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.’” (NRSV)
Author Shane Claiborne, writing in his book Irresistible Revolution says this:
“God comforts the disturbed and disturbs the comfortable.”
Was John’s “crying one voice” both comforting and disturbing? Probably. I’ll bet it all depended on where one was when the wilderness word entered the hearer’s ear upon the desert wind.
The news shared by John in the wilderness is disturbingly comfortable and uncomfortably disturbing. It is the voice of one announcing a regime change, a paradigm shift, a move from the known to the unknown, a death and a birth. It declares that the old is dying as the new is coming. And, ironically enough, this is being declared by a “crying one in the wilderness.” The inaugural voice of God’s untamed regime change is coming to the civility of the world from the incivility of the wilderness.
We ought to be able to appreciate the truth in that image. We all have a wilderness—and it is rarely civil; certainly not the lovely vistas along the Blue Ridge Parkway or in the South Dakota Badlands, but often encountered as the midway spaces in our lives that hang on thresholds between the doorway of our celebratory highs and damning lows, between our most effervescent joys and flattest depressions, and in these fertile untamed spaces where our emotions leave us wondering what to make of it all, how we got ourselves into/how we will get ourselves out of such a place, or even how we will ever rise up from such knock downs.
Our wilderness moments lay us bare. Our wilderness moments are Martha and the Vandellas moments—cause we’re standing bare naked, exposed, totally vulnerable, at the end of our self-reliant sufficiency with, “Nowhere to run, baby nowhere to hide. Sing it Martha, sing it! We might as well as admit to ourselves, “I got nowhere to run, baby nowhere to hide.”
For we eventually lose our creative power to manufacture one distraction right after another and are confronted head-on with the reality of who we are and the reality of what our life truly is—-not the images of who we are that we fully parade out of our self-serving need for acceptance and our bondage to people-pleasing, nor the images we project from our cravings for self and others to believe something false to be our real life. In the wilderness the fake is collapsing as the real comes into view. As the way of the Lord is prepared the false resists every effort to yield to the real—but there is no way to avert it—the real is coming as the fake is going.
And this is our wilderness—though by far, as we live our lives, we discover that when it comes to wilderness places, we rarely have just one.
And this wilderness is our changing place, our reforming place, our entering the tomb to be resurrected place. Advent marches us through this wilderness place each year and in dark Winter (and always) God meets us in the wilderness, speaks truth to us, and does some amazing act—a changing act, a reforming act, a resurrection act. The untamed Word of God meets us in the wilderness as it prepares the way of the Lord.
In the wilderness comes the Word.
When the universe was nothingness, this wilderness Word spoke “being-ness.”
When the people of Ancient Israel were a slave people, this wilderness Word spoke them into a freedom people.
When the unnoticed bent back woman was nobody people, this wilderness Word noticed her and spoke her into being one of the straight back in plain view somebody people.
When the 5,000-ish were hungry by the lake people, this wilderness Word spoke them into a 5,000-ish bellies full with left-overs to share people.
When it comes to preparing the way, this wilderness Word leaves us, “Nowhere to run, baby nowhere to hide.”Sing it Martha, sing it!
Friends, Take a look at your life!
Look around in your wilderness and hear what the wilderness Word is speaking.
Doesn’t the wilderness Word speak super-adequate abundance to the paucity of our scarcity wilderness?
Doesn’t the wilderness Word speak love to our unloving wilderness?
Doesn’t the wilderness Word speak order to our identity confusion wilderness?
Doesn’t the wilderness Word speak reconciliation to our messy relationship wilderness?
Doesn’t the wilderness Word speak homecoming to our ostracism wilderness?
And to top it all off, doesn’t the wilderness Word speak life—resurrection—to our death wilderness?
The wilderness Word is carrying us through our wilderness making us new, making us real, killing the false, and bringing new life. And what is this wilderness Word speaking? Love. And this is no tame love, but one that prepares the way in this fashion, as C. S. Lewis says,
“God…makes us occupy the dock, the witness box, and the bench all at once. He always knew that [our] temple was a house of cards. His only way of making [us] realize the fact was to knock it down.”
Love has an unkind, and yet oh so kind, way of knocking down and raising up wilderness people. God speaks a wilderness Word and our need for repentance is laid utterly bare. Our falseness is in plain view, exposed by someone (some Word) more real than we’d before known. And in that encounter—not from our place of regretting sin—but being reformed by the profound love of the wilderness Word, we enter a new place where love calls, draws, and receives true repentance out of us. It is so very true—we have nowhere to run and no place to hide for the wilderness Word prepares the way of the Lord in the ending and beginning of us.