12/6/2015 Second Sunday of Advent The text is Luke 1:1-6.
Grace and peace to you from God, our Father, and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
Today, I have few eloquent words to share with you. I have no glorious sermon with little jokes and quotes from famous people. Today, I come to you armed only with the true story of an experience I had a few years back at this time of the year, and a reflection on today’s gospel based on that experience. I am sharing this with you because I remember it as if it were yesterday. For, it was one of those days that can cause a person to take pause and to think about what really matters in life.
The day began like many others…with the bustle of getting ready for a busy day and a full schedule. But, as the day light disappeared, the ordinary became anything other than business as usual. It began in the early evening – the phone rang, and I was back on the road, traveling again to a hospital and a bedside which I had left around 1:30 in the afternoon. Things had changed. The optimism of the early day, faded into the reality of critical illness. The heavy breathing of the afternoon was now labored and full of pain. The eyes, which had been bright with recognition, were glazed. And, as I walked into the room, my countenance mirrored the vision that was set before me.
There seemed to be so little that I could do. Things had changed so quickly. And I could not alter what was happening. All I could do was hold a hand, dampen a cloth, stroke an arm, speak loudly over the din of machinery, and let the one whom I was visiting know that I was there. There was so little that I could do…so little, yet wanting to do so much.
Anyone who has ever sat bedside and watched and waited with one whose life was holding on by a thread, knows the feelings of helplessness that I felt that day. It seems that there is little to be done other than to be present to witness the events which are taking place before your very eyes. There is little to be done in such a wilderness other than comforting and praying and remembering and offering a word of hope. That word of hope which we offer cannot be based on false promises or pie in the sky dreams which we cannot deliver. That word of hope needs to be founded on the sure foundation of God’s never-failing word.
The word of God came to John, the son of Zechariah, in the wilderness. John’s wilderness was a desert, surrounding the fertile land of his ancestors. Our wilderness may be found in a place like that, or in the forested areas of the White Mountains. But there is no greater wilderness for us than that which we find as we stare in the face of one who is struggling for each breath. The wilderness is a lonely place. It is a place without the frills of life. It is a barren place, devoid of the sights and sounds that distract us from experiencing the struggles of life, the fear of death, the frailty of human existence. It is a place where we can see our need of God most clearly as we cannot escape our own limitations.
This word of God came to John, the son of Zechariah, in such a barren place. In his wilderness, in a time of great need, he experienced God’s word and was filled with God’s spirit. And it was from this place that he was sent into the world to prepare others to receive that same word of God, and a Word which would soon be made flesh in the person of Jesus Christ, the living and active truth of God.
The word which filled John, in a barren place, was a word of hope and of joy and of salvation. It was a word of promise and fulfillment. It was the word of God for all people. That word was a word that he could trust, and that word had the power to transform the wilderness into a fertile land of new life, a land flowing with expectation and hope.
When John heard the word, he left his solitude and began proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. John, the son of Zechariah, through the word of God, became known as John, the baptizer. And although John’s baptism was an Old Testament cleansing, not a baptism into the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, it did call for a change in heart, as the people were implored to turn their lives over to God.
For the people wandering in the wilderness of their own lives, repentance did not mean gloom and doom, despair or wallowing in guilt. Repentance brought about the transformation of the barren wilderness of human life into the fertile grounds of life with God and God’s word. Repentance has always meant a turning around, a reversal of direction, an exchange of goals. In a sense, it has even meant rejoicing, as it brought hope in a relationship with God and God’s word. John’s call for repentance was a call for people to prepare, to prepare to receive their Lord, to prepare to meet him face to face.
Now, to put it quite bluntly, no one can ever be prepared to receive Christ, God’s enfleshed word, through self-reliance. We need to come out of the wilderness and grab hold of God’s life-giving word in order to see the path which has laid before us – the way of salvation, the way of life, the way of the Lord, the way of hope. This path becomes straight as we turn to the source of our help, our Lord and our God.
It was the source of our help I turned to as I sat bedside, pondering what I could do as I watched each labored breath. How could I help? What could I offer? So little, but a gentle touch, a dampened cloth, and the word of God – a word of God to break through the wilderness of a room filled with machinery, a word of God to breathe hope and life amidst the sounds of labored breathing, a word of God to focus glazed eyes on the source of new life.
In the end, that word, the word of God’s impending salvation, the same word of hope that John received in his wilderness, is all that we have to share, as we wait and watch and pray and gently touch and look into the face of one who is struggling for each breath. And that word is all that we need – both now and forever more. For in that word is the peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, and keeps our hearts and our minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.