Monday, December 08, 2008

advent 2 sermon, dec 7, the wilderness

texts: isaiah and mark


A way in the wilderness.
Salvation traditionally comes from the wilderness.

Moses, Elijah, and David all had to flee to the wilderness (Exod 2:15; 1 Sam 23:14; 1 Kgs 19:3-4). Likewise, Jesus will emerge from the wilderness to begin preaching the good news and will return there several times (Mark 1:35, 45; 6:31-32, 35; 8:4).61

Where is the wilderness for you? Is the wilderness a safe place or a dangerous place? The Greek God of the wilderness was Pan, the little guy with goat legs, remember. You know what word we get from Pan? Panic!

Story about getting wilderness survival merit badge. Made a shelter in the crook of a fallen tree. Had no food, so we caught a frog and boiled it to eat—(think we just ended up boiling the frog and then being grossed out.).

In the end, our boy scout leaders (who got to bring a tent) surprised us with birthday cake for one of the boys who was spending his birthday on the outing. Spent the night cold and jumpy about the things that might be crawling on me in that little nook.

The wilderness is a place that can be dangerous. Perhaps that’s one reason our salvation begins in the wilderness.

The text from Isaiah says “In the wilderness prepare a way for the Lord.” Interesting that the quotation marks are found around the whole sentence, including “in the wilderness,” in Mark’s use of the same verse from Isaiah, he locates the voice in the wilderness saying ……
You would probably have similar stories about the literal wilderness, but what about our metaphorical wildernesses? Those places and times and life experiences that make us feel uneasy, uncomfortable?

Some would say life in the current economy is a wilderness. We are on edge. We are watching representatives from the auto industry begging for money from the government. Things don’t look good. The prevailing wisdom is that we are one or two wrong moves away from a financial depression!

In this “wilderness” how do we heed John’s call to “prepare a way for the Lord?” How do we “make strait the paths for him?”

Bud Reeves, a minister in Hot Springs, wrote in a recent article of the Arkansas United Methodist, that “tithing creates in us a sense of peace and security” amidst a crumbling economy. Tithing helps us straiten out our own priorities, our own “way.”

This is one way we find hope and promise in the wilderness. If you feel the panic of a world of economic instability, put your trust in God’s activity. How literally and physically put our “trust” in God? We can tithe.

During the Holidays, when everything around us says we should be feeling nostalgic and happy and loving, some of us suffer from grief, and stress, and relational discord.

These are also wilderness experiences. These are situations that make us panicked, and angry, and uneasy. Be assured today that it is in these times of wilderness that God’s power can be most effective in changing your life.
When we are feeling good and happy, we tend to put our confidence in ourselves. When we are stripped of these feelings, we are usually more ready to put our trust in God.

If this season holds the wilderness of grief and pain for you for a loss you have suffered, you can find God’s presence in the loving arms of a community ready to help you bear that weight. You can find hope in the strategies and coping resources available to you tonight at the Griefshare “surviving the holidays” event.

If this season holds for you the wilderness of a stressed marriage, perhaps there you will find a renewed commitment to the covenant of marriage in the truth that love is not just a feeling, love is an act of will. Ask for God’s transforming fire to enliven your marriage with passion and dedication.

If the prospect of buying the perfect gift for your loved ones, attending four parties in three weeks, and travelling to two states in the quest to find that holiday cheer instead leaves you in the wilderness of stress—ask God to help you recognize the peace of the Christ child amidst the chaos of a Bethlehem under siege.

Take heart that Mary and Joseph struggled from similar difficulties, and couldn’t even find a place to stay. So God led them to a stable, where the hope of the world could be born. God works in unexpected ways—attune your senses to God’s path.

All of these wildernesses can be traversed with God’s renewing power. John baptized with water for the forgiveness of sins. He proclaimed that one would come after him who would baptize with the refining fire of the Holy Spirit. A baptism that In Peterson’s words, “would change us from the inside-out.”

.We believe this meal we have available every week, this table of communion, is fuel for that fire. The more steady the flame, the stronger the light to guide our way in this wilderness.

You see, it’s a change in us that gives us a straight path through the wilderness. Circumstances may change, but if we are changed and renewed from the inside out, we can make it through anything

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