Go Wild!

Meditation on Luke 3:1-6 for the Second Sunday of Advent

The Presbyterian Church, Coshocton, OH

Pastor Karen Crawford

Dec. 5, 2021

Link to our bulletin:

Link to a recording of our live-streamed service: https://fb.watch/9I-O0RdrmY/

Are you ready for Christmas? Anybody in here ready for Christmas? It’s not a trick question, really. All of us have things we do as we prepare for our celebration of Christ’s birth. We all have meaningful traditions throughout this season of light.

    A Christmas tree has always been important to me. How bout you? I have seen your photos of Christmas tree hunting and decorating on Facebook!

I am hoping we will decorate our tree and home this week.

   Other important rituals. Christmas shopping? Anybody shop on Black Friday? You’re brave. Christmas cards? I always write cards—lots of them. But I never get them sent out early.

    Baking? When my children were little, I used to make about 7 or more different kinds of Christmas cookies.  My mixer would be working overtime. Drop, shape, and bar cookies, the roll out/cookie cutter kind—sugar and gingerbread people.

    Gatherings and special meals with family and friends.  Exchanging gifts. Christmas caroling, visiting elderly members and neighbors. Worship on Christmas Eve—lighting candles, ringing bells, singing “Silent Night.”  These traditions are even more special to us this year, perhaps, after not being able to gather last year because of the pandemic.

     But on this Second Sunday in Advent,  as we light candles for hope and peace and anticipate our Lord’s return, the gospel urges us to be open to a new move of the Spirit. This is the time for boldness and risk for we who are stewards of God’s grace and love, called to be Christ’s Body for the world.

      “Prepare the way of the Lord!” is the Baptist’s timeless cry to us from the wild place.

        All flesh shall soon see the salvation of God.

***    

    One thing I like best about John the Baptist is that he is not afraid to be different. He doesn’t worry what other people think of him!  He is a truthteller and will anger people in high places because of it. He’s the last of the Old Testament prophets and the first of the New Covenant prophets. He points the way to the One who is more powerful than He, the One who baptizes with the Holy Spirit and fire. When he is in prison, he will send his followers to ask Jesus in Luke 7:19,  “Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?”

    John is the fulfillment of the angel Gabriel’s prophecy to Zechariah the priest in Luke chapter 1. Gabriel tells Zechariah that his wife, Elizabeth, who had been unable to have a child, would give birth to a son. They will name him John.  “You will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth,” the angel says, “for he will be great in the sight of the Lord.” The child must not drink wine or strong drink as he will be filled with the Holy Spirit even before his birth.  “He will turn many of the people of Israel to the Lord this God,” the angel goes on. “With the spirit and power of Elijah he will go before him to turn the hearts of parents to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous, to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”

    John will likely hear this story retold again and again in his childhood, including   the part about his father not believing the angel and being rendered speechless for his lack of faith until after the prophecy of John’s birth has come true.

   But then, Zechariah will burst out in a song of praise and prophecy of his son:

 76 And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High;
    for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways,
77 to give knowledge of salvation to his people
    by the forgiveness of their sins.
78 By the tender mercy of our God,
    the dawn from on high will break upon us,
79 to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,
    to guide our feet into the way of peace.”

    Gabriel’s prophecy to Zechariah of John’s ministry is fulfilled today in our reading in Luke chapter 3. The movement of God finds the Baptizer in the wilderness, traveling the region of the Jordan River.  

This will stir memories for Jewish followers of Christ of the Israelites’ exile with Moses in the wilderness and of the place where they crossed with Joshua into the Promised Land. Now, John is inviting God’s people to come back not to the corrupt institution of religion of his time—the one he turned his back on, though he had a hereditary claim to the priesthood—but out to the middle of nowhere,  away from the world of foreign rule by emperors and puppet rulers like Pontius Pilate, governor of Judea, and Herod, ruler of Galilee. People from all walks of life are drawn to this wild place and the preacher wearing camel’s hair and eating locusts and honey. Away from the noise, distractions and distress of their daily lives is where the people find themselves and become a better version of themselves, rediscovering their identity as the beloved people of God and their purpose—to love and serve Him. Their hearts are prepared for a new beginning with God, not through the law or by priestly sacrifice but by grace, with John’s baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. This will be the first step in the societal “road construction” of which Isaiah prophesied—the valleys being filled, the mountains and hills being made low, the crooked paths being made straight and the rough ways made smooth.  

     We all need a God-filled place like the wilderness in John’s time, especially in this season of Advent, when the world wants to keep us busy and distracted or longing for our pre-pandemic existence. We need a space that is just right for being ourselves with God and other followers of Christ. Away from the noise, distractions and distress of our daily lives is where we find ourselves and become a better version of ourselves, and remember our identity as the Redeemed, claimed by Christ in our baptisms. We all need a place where we are renewed in our purpose—to love and serve Him. And our hearts are prepared for a new beginning with God.

    Friends, what if that space for us is right here—in this place? What if this is our wilderness retreat, where we come to know and rely on the Lord, trust in His Word and cling to His love? Then, nourished by Spirit, Word and Sacrament, we are sent out—together—as Christ’s Body for the world.

   We gathered for our second youth and young adult service in the chapel this morning at 9. I feel such hope, joy, and peace when I am with our young people in the informal, intimate setting, singing songs of praise and studying God’s Word. I pray that those who participate in our early service will feel comfortable in that space and able to be completely themselves, sharing without worry of what people will think of them. We intentionally made sure the service would be different than our 10:30 worship, so that it would be something just for them, that they could call their own, and would evolve as they make it more their own.

    Before Session and I decided to start this new, experimental service on the first Sunday of Advent, I asked myself, “What are you thinking—starting a second service during the busiest season of the church year?” Would there be a better time for this?  Immediately, the answer came, “What could be a better time than Advent—as we wait in hope for the coming of the Lord?”

   This is the time not just for warm, fuzzy traditions and rituals, but for boldness and risk for we who are stewards of God’s grace and love.

    “Prepare the way of the Lord!” is the Baptist’s timeless cry from the wild place.

     For all flesh shall soon see the salvation of God.

 Let us pray. Holy One, we hear the voice crying in the wilderness and we, with all our hearts and minds, respond now eagerly. Prepare us, Lord, for your coming, and help us to do the road construction that is needed in us and our society to prepare for your return—the filling in of the valleys, the making low of mountains and hills, the straightening of our crooked paths and the smoothing of our rough ways. Thank you for your prophets that weren’t afraid to be truth tellers and call us back to live loving and faithful lives in obedience to your Word. Come, Lord Jesus. Come quickly now. We long for the day when all flesh will see your salvation. In the name of our Emanuel we pray. Amen.

Published by karenpts

I am the pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Smithtown, New York on Long Island. Come and visit! We want to share God’s love and grace with you and encourage you on your journey of faith. I have served Presbyterian congregations in Minnesota, Florida and Ohio since my ordination in 2011. I am a 2010 graduate of Princeton Theological Seminary and am working on a doctor of ministry degree with Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary. I am married to Jim and we have 5 grown children and two grandchildren in our blended family. We are parents to fur babies, Liam, an orange tabby cat, and Minnie, a toy poodle.

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