|Posted by Baltimore Lutheran Campus Ministry on December 11, 2017 at 4:30 PM|
2 Peter 3:8-15
Every Thursday on campus, our ministry stands out with a big sign on campus asking a question to get to know our Towson community. And this week’s question was about which holiday tradition we were most looking forward to. And one of our students told me that what she likes the best is how her mom changes out all the lights to make them softer so that everything is cozy at Christmas. That’s how we like to prepare for Christmas- especially on snowy days like yesterday. We want to bake cookies, put out warm blankets and think happy thoughts.
But in the church, getting ready for Christmas is never cozy. It starts with the end of the world like we heard last week and it continues in the wilderness with a man who dedicated his life to being un-cozy- one who wears scratchy wool and eats locusts. And he’s telling everyone to change the way they’re living and get right with God.
John is standing in the wilderness speaking the truth that his people were out of step with God’s ways. They were taking advantage of others and not doing the hard work that God needed them to do. And frankly, they were getting too comfortable with living like that. So John is telling them that they needed to clean up their lives and get ready for God to come into their midst.
That’s probably something that doesn’t sound all that foreign around this time of year. We never want guests to see how messy our homes. We don’t want them to see how we really live. So, when company comes we scrub the bathrooms, clean out the spare room, and vacuum the floors. And that’s what John is calling us to do, to clean ourselves up and make space in our hearts for the one that is coming.
And although I love John’s words in the abstract- and perhaps I like them in the concrete when they are said to people in my life that I have decided need to repent the most- there are days that I want to put in ear plugs and close my eyes and pretend that he’s not calling to me from the wilderness THIS year. Because sometimes it just seems like too much. To try to do all that’s asked of us in this busy December time while also having to stop and see all the ways I don’t measure up, how I get my priorities messed up and how I don’t care well for the people and the work entrusted to me. And not just to see it, but to begin to live differently! It’s all too much some years and I want John to go back to his wilderness.
But the people in John’s day had ears to hear John as more than a pesky voice giving us one more thing to do. They heard him as the continuation of what God always did in the wilderness.
Because the wilderness had always been a special place for God’s people. Even though it was harsh and unforgiving, it had always been a place where God had sustained the people. God sent them manna and kept them alive for 40 years in the wilderness after God rescued them from Egypt. God had given them the law in the wilderness and led them with a pillar of cloud.
And the wilderness was where the prophets went to hear a word from God. And it’s where God spoke words of hope to those in exile. The wilderness may have been harsh and hard to bear- like John’s words to them- but the wilderness was also a place where God had a habit of showing up for the good of God’s people.
So they could hear wilderness words as words filled with hope. Words that proclaimed what our Second Lesson did- that God is patient and desperately wants everyone to turn around to God and be made new. And the Scriptures says that “people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him” and confessing all that they had done wrong. The people were lining up for the chance to admit that their lives weren’t what they hoped them to be and they were in need of a new way of living. And they were willing to trust that there could be a new future for them. Because they trusted John’s word from the wilderness- God is doing a new thing among you, so get ready for it!
John’s voice cries out the same in our own wildernesses- be those wildernesses of busyness or heartache or shame. Cries out with that promise that we all want this Christmas season- that there is a chance to be made new. For our broken places to be healed. For our distracted ways to be focused again on God. There is a chance to leave behind our harmful habits. There is hope for us to be the people we were created to be.
But that begins by responding to that wilderness call. By confessing all that gets in the way of following God’s hope for us. By confessing all the things that we make more important than following Jesus. By committing ourselves to leave behind those things that trap us. To get ready for all that God wants to do in the world, so that we might have a part it bringing it to birth.
Now, all this preparing our hearts and lives doesn’t earn us something. And our God is going to show up whether we get out there in the wilderness and get ready. Because our God is better at showing up than we will ever be in preparing our hearts. But there are some things that make our heart more ready to greet to that good news when it comes.
You know what that’s like. When our house is clean, we can receive guests more easily because we’re not ashamed of what things look like and we’re not busy thinking about what needs to be done. When our studying is done, we can more readily welcome the test that’s coming. When we’ve been eating right and doing our exercises, we can be more ready to greet the doctor’s appointment. When we’re ready, we can have our hearts open in a new way. That is what John is inviting us to do in Advent.
Advent is supposed to be a renewal movement. A time of getting our hearts ready for all that God will make new. Our preparations are about doing those things make us ready to celebrate God’s ways in the world. But how do we actually do this in the midst of a hectic season?
We go out to the wilderness. We take that one thing that the wilderness has plenty of- silence. Away from our reading. Away from our technology. Away from the Christmas songs on the radio. Away from our to-do list. Take some moments this week- wherever you can find them- to just stop. Hear your own life.
And lift up your eyes from the news to gaze at the vision of God’s new heaven where our Second Lesson says, “righteousness at home.” Imagine what that will look like. And at least for 5 minutes a day, dare to trust that it is coming into the world. Dream about when the prophecies will come true- when the lion and the lamb live together. When everyone sits under their own vine and own fig tree and no one feels afraid. When all people will come to worship together on God’s holy mountain. God’s future has a way of putting our hurry, our stress about little details, and our cleaning and baking and shopping in perspective. This is not so we can escape the world, but we can be ready for the new way of the world when it comes.
Begin doing that thing that you know God want you to do- whether it’s forgive someone, reach out to someone who desperately needs it, or advocate to protect those who are vulnerable.
And if you are too busy with Christmas preparations to even think about doing that, then I’m going to use my authority as a pastor to give you permission to put down some of those things that our culture says we have to do (and believe me, I get sucked in by it, too.) Shut out the voices that try to convince us that if we don’t do this tradition or have our home prepared in this way, our kids or grandkids or friends won’t have a magical holiday. If we don’t find the right gift or bake all 8 kinds of cookies, we simply won’t be able to have Christmas. Blame it on me this year if you have to.
Because sometimes we get so wrapped up in what Christmas has to look like that we forget what WE should look like. We forget what our lives before God should look like as we wait for God to come to us. We forget God’s call to “as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all people.” We forget, “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” We forget God’s pleading voice calling us to come in prayer and trust with all that is too heavy for us to carry.
But then we hear John’s pesky voice in the wilderness reminding us that God is coming. Coming to us, ones called beloved. Our God is coming to make a world “where righteousness is at home.” And we are invited to get our hearts ready so that we can rejoice when God comes.