“In the fifteenth year of the reign of Emperor Tiberius…(Luke 3:1)” Thus the gospel reading begins by trumpeting the name of the emperor and follows with a litany of men of power: governors, rulers, high priests. Contrasted against this rapid fire list of the influential and the commanding, the word of God drops instead into the wilderness. The word of God comes from the mouth of John, preparing the way for Jesus with a call to repentance, a call to turn in a new direction. The word of God comes from the wilderness, not the temple made by human hands with ulterior motives. Not from the high priest whose religion is undermined by benefitting from the ways of the world. Mention of the wilderness brings forth many associations for people of Israel whose history is punctuated by difficult and dangerous journeys through the wilderness. The wilderness is often where the children of Abraham encounter God.
Finding God in the wilderness rather than places of power ought to make some sense to us as well. After all, we do not come to be followers of Jesus as princes and princesses born into our faith through our ancestry nor by our own power. We come as children of God by God’s grace, by God’s love, welcomed home from our own wilderness wanderings and taken in and adopted by the power of love not inheritance or might. Sometimes we seem to forget this, calling this a Christian nation as though we have inherited some special treatment and privileges, as though the history of this nation is pristine and without sin. We are called to the wilderness, to turn away from worldly powers, away from prestige. We are called to repentance not recollections of some supposed glory days but remembering our own hardships and learned humility, recalling who we are, the wildernesses of our past, and what we have learned.
This time of year is a time of waiting. We are waiting for God to show up. Don’t get me wrong, I trust God is all around us and within us. Yet my trust is hazy at times as it is felt dimly through the clamor of day to day life and hammered repeatedly by the despair,violence, and selfishness present in our world. I long for God to show up in a way obvious even to my hazy sensibilities. This time of year such longing fits with the season. We are awaiting God’s presence through a babe born in circumstances both extraordinary and oh so ordinary. We are waiting for God to show up in new and unexpected places in that time when all things will be made new. We are waiting for God to show up in our lives in a way which will renew our faith, our trust. But we are called to do more than just wait. We are also called to turn in repentance. We are called to turn toward those who speak truth whatever they look like. Then it was camel’s hair clothing now it might be a hijab, a hoodie, or someone drenched in dirt and grime from a desperate journey fleeing a shattered homeland. We are called to turn to the wilderness of the powerless, the impoverished, the broken, the wounded, the outcast, and hear their voices as fellow adopted children of God.
If we listen to words bandied about on our televisions and computers, in our neighborhoods and stores, by politicians and reporters we will hear much fear. Certainly there is much in this time which is uncertain. But fear is rarely the source of good decision making. Time and again throughout scriptures God calls us to “be not afraid.” So, this season let us pray God will show up in a way that will rebuild our trust, our faith, and our hope. Let us pray this is not a trust which sits back and does nothing. Better yet, let us repent of apathetic trust, blind trust, trust which washes our hands of all responsibility beyond a few mumbled prayers. Let us repent and pray for a renewed trust and faithfulness which sees brothers and sisters not threats, which breathes in hope and steps forth in compassion, a stalwart faith which stands, struggles and fights alongside those in need. Let us pray for God to show up in the midst of our waiting and kindle within us anew a faith which lives out love. Come Lord Jesus. May it be so. Amen.