December 9, 2018
Scripture: Luke 3:1-6
I feel as though I need to begin by apologizing to our scripture readers this morning for the great long list of names of people and places in the reading from Luke’s gospel. I considered cutting the first verse from the reading to save our readers from needing to read most of the names; but that list of names ended up being the first thing that really caught my attention when I looked at the reading earlier in the week.
We begin with a long list of names of who held the power and where. If we were to translate this list into 2018, it might read something like, “In the second year of the reign of President Trump, when The Right Honourable Justin Trudeau was the Prime Minister of Canada and The Honourable Blaine Higgs was the Premier of New Brunswick, when Elizabeth II was the Queen of the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth…” You see where this is going!
So our reading begins with a list of who held the power and where; but the Word of God doesn’t come to those who were in power. The Word of God doesn’t come to the emperor or the governor or the rulers or the high priests. Instead, the Word of God comes to John, an ordinary guy from Judea who didn’t live in a palace but instead made his home in the wilderness.
I don’t know about you, but I carry within me many memories of wilderness times. Back in northwestern Ontario, one of my favourite things to do is a back-country canoe trip – the longer the better. One of my friends and I like to go out for a week or two at a time. We carry our food and our tent and our sleeping bags in our backpacks and we paddle from lake to lake and down rivers, sometimes carrying our canoe around rapids and waterfalls, or sometimes choosing to run the rapids.
It’s not an easy or a comfortable place to be. Our canoe has capsized a couple of times. It’s hard work, paddling and portaging all day; and then at night we sleep on the hard ground since there isn’t room for fancy air mattresses in our backpacks. And depending on the time of year, the mosquitoes and blackflies can be something fierce!
And yet despite all of this, or maybe because of it, there’s something about being in the wilderness – away from telephones, away from the internet, away from Facebook, away from regular commitments. There’s something about the repetitive action of paddle… paddle… repeat. There’s something about portaging along a rough trail, canoe overhead and a heavy pack on your back, one foot in front of the other. There’s something about being in tune with the cycle of the day from sunrise to sunset with no watch or phone to track the hours. It seems as though each time we go out into the wilderness, either my friend or I is struggling to discern something; and by the time we get back to so-called civilization, an important decision has been reached. There’s something special about the wilderness.
In the wilderness, we need to choose what is essential, and what we are going to leave behind. We need to trust our companions, because it is only by working together that we will make it to the other side. We need to be fully present in the moment, alert to both the beauty and the dangers.
All of us go through periods of time in our lives that feel like wilderness times. Times when everything that has seemed to be safe and predictable drops away from us; times that feel uncomfortable or downright scary; times that feel like it is just such hard work to get from one day to the next.
I wonder if maybe the lessons from the literal wilderness might help us to get through these wilderness times in our lives? We need to decide what is essential, and what burdens can be left behind. We need to choose our companions, and then work together and trust them in order to arrive safely on the other side. We need to be fully present in the moment rather than dwelling on the past or worrying about the future.
The word of God came to John in the wilderness; and God comes to us too in the wilderness times in our lives. I wonder if maybe these wilderness times that we face in our lives open our hearts to God’s presence? Maybe they draw us closer together, and to draw us closer to God? The wilderness is not an easy place to be, or a comfortable place to be; but there is something about being in the wilderness.
The voice in the wilderness cries out: “The path will be made easy since the valleys will be raised up and the hills will be lowered and the twists and turns will be straightened out! The path of God will be prepared, and all of humanity will see and know God’s salvation!”
May it be so.