Sermon – December 9, 2001 – The Wilderness Reformed

December 9, 2001

Second Sunday of Advent

The Wilderness Reformed

I’m dating myself a bit here, but one of my favorite televisions shows when
I was growing up was Mutual of Omaha’s “Wild Kingdom”, narrated by Marlin
Perkins. Remember that? For those of you who are chronologically
challenged, it was a weekly program sort of like a National Geographic in
the wild. Every week the camera crews and reporters could be found deep in
the wilderness of Africa or Canada, or the jungles of the East, filming the
dangerous balance of animals surviving, predators overcoming, filming the
viciousness of Mother Nature as terrific winds blew or floods raged. It was
a fascinating and intriguing program and what made it so, I think, was that
it nearly always depicted the tension and the danger of one part of creation
pitted against another, whether it was the lionesses in full stride running
down a wildebeest, or coyotes sneaking across the plains, preying on the
rancher’s sheep, or the dry desert wind overcoming anything in its way.
The key to “Wild Kingdom” was the anxiousness of the chase and the drama of
the conflict and the danger of the wilderness.

That is how the wilderness is, even now. The lion does not lay down with
the lamb, but consumes it. The bear preys upon the cattle. And the snake
will strike if challenged. The wilderness is dangerous and life
threatening.

This is the image that comes to us when we hear the voice of John crying in
the wilderness, crying out of a place where one preys upon another or danger
lurks, where elemental forces contend against each other. It is in that
place, that wild place, where the Baptist shouts the unlikely proclamation,
“prepare the way of the Lord.”

The wilderness is real in the world now and not just in the wild confines of
parks and mountain ranges. We live nowadays in a wilderness where the evil
prey upon the innocent, where children are abandoned and abused, where greed
and power are jealously held so that in spite of our great wealth a child
dies of starvation every 2.5 seconds. We live in a wilderness where
innocent people are killed for bewildering political reasons, where the
goodness of religious faith is turned into a tool for violence and hatred.
There are consequences of living in the untamed wilderness.

It is in this wilderness where we hear today John’s call to prepare a way .
. . to prepare a way for the outrageous vision of Isaiah, where the
wilderness is remade, where the wilderness is undone and recreated, where
harmony and peace prevail, and where the innocent ones rub shoulder to
shoulder. We consider that vision as we hear his promise that there is one
to come who can make it so, who has the such power recreate and renew and
change.

We who live in the wilderness long for the vision of Isaiah, for the
fulfillment of the promise. Our response to Isaiah’s vision is longing,
and frankly a feeling of hopelessness for attaining such a pure thing.

In the comic strip Calvin and Hobbes, Calvin says to Hobbes, “I feel bad
that I called Suzie names and hurt her feelings. I’m sorry I did it.
Hobbes says, “maybe you should go and apologize to her.” Calvin ponders
this for a moment and then replies, “I was hoping for a less obvious
solution.”

One of the great gifts of the coming of God in Christ is that he has given
us the obvious solution to our greater problems and our lack of peace, our
brokeness, our wilderness wandering, the obvious solution to that which our
hearts long for.

John calls it repentance, to repentance to prepare the way. John calls us
to to get ready for the fulfillment of that outrageous vision of peace,
which in spite of its challenge implies that it’s possible. Often when we
hear the call to repentance or confession we hear it as a religious formula
or a routine when we get down on our knees and say we’re sorry, and that’s
that. No. Instead, it’s much more than that. It means to change how we do
things. Repentance is an act of faith toward the one who has the power to
renew. A truly repentant life is one that changes, and lives in
thankfulness to the promise of that vision, for the reality of the one who
can make it so. To prepare the way, to open our hearts to the possibility of
Christ is to change directions. To seek renewal rather than status quo in
our relation to God and others. To turn ourselves toward the God who does
not want to leave us in the disharmony and fear. Repentance is a gift from
this loving God to help us find our way. It is the freedom to not make
the same tired mistakes time and again, and walk the same old paths, to not
fall into the same worn traps, to cry the same bitter tears. Repentance
means breaking from the path and changing our direction.

Repentance means something more than feeling bad, it means doing something.
For Calvin, it’s apologizing to Suzie. For us it means orienting ourselves
toward the one who makes it so, toward the manger, toward the cross. Toward
Jesus. To seek the possibly of that harmony we so long for.

Of course, the call is for change is for change in the wilderness of our
hearts, preparation in the wilderness of our hearts. Making ready the
possibility of our renewal, for the reversal of our fear and shame, for our
misdirections and mistakes. Repentance, turning, walking the other path is
how we proceed through the danger and uncertainty of the wilderness. And
the beautiful promise is that when we do this, the path opens up for us,
change is possible. The one who bids us follow him, shows us the way. And
the wilderness in our heart can be transformed from contention and
predation, from selfishness and shame and hunger for power. . . to the path
of harmony and love and renewal and redemption. And it is only when this
wilderness in our hearts begins to change that we can affect a change in the
world, where we can become a voice renewal and restoration in the world,
where through our voices and hands and hearts, we can turn the powers of the
sword, blunt the sharp edge of hatred, undermine the prerogatives of the
powerful.

Repentance is to change direction and follow another path. Oh, how hard
that is! How difficult to confront the dangers of the wilderness.
Isaiah’s wisdom was to name what we long for, and then he promises the means
. . . . . . “and a little child shall lead them.”

As we draw near the manger we are reminded again that we proceed toward the
child through the wilderness, but not without our way lit by the star that
directs us, led by the light which the darkness cannot over come.

We truly live in Wild Kingdom. . . . . but the promise of Isaiah beckons us,
the hope of the manger is proclaimed among us, the path is opening before us
in God’s kingdom. . . A little child is leading us . . . are we prepared to
follow?

Amen

Copyright (c) 2001 by Pastor Robert J. Rasmus