December 10, 2017
At some point in all of our lives, there is a longing that resides within us and it can be hard to name. We know that something is calling us to greater things, but we are not sure what it may be. The longing can take on the form of nostalgia as we look towards the past and wish that we were back in a time where things seemed much simpler. Those days when we were children and we did not have too much to personally worry about. We long for that time where we may have felt more secure. That same longing can also bring a sense of pain as old memories are restored and we are confronted with those things that we would rather not approach.
The institutional church is great at longing. Longing for days past. Longing for days when there were a 100 children in Sunday School and the sanctuary was full every Sunday. Yet, when we long for the things that were, we tend to forget God in the present and the trajectory that the Spirit is guiding us.
There is a longing that we can point to this morning within our lessons. First, in Isaiah, the people of Israel are nearing the end of their Babylonian Exile and there is a longing for what they had many years ago. They longed to be back in Israel and the familiar, even though a couple of generations had passed. They knew it was their home and they longed to return to the land of their ancestors.
This is picked up in our gospel lesson from Mark this morning. “See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way; the voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.’ ” There is a longing among the Jewish people that takes place across time. A longing to be in touch with God. A longing to repent of their past grievances and to be found righteous in the eyes of God that had seen them out of exile.
In the longing, they find themselves in the wilderness. The wilderness can be a scary place if you are not familiar with it. You don’t know what is around each bend and each turn could lead to the unexpected. The wilderness does not tell them when it will end. The wilderness can make them forget who they were, or it can help them look toward the future.
Everyone of us could point to some time in our lives when we found ourselves in the wilderness. A time where we felt lost and did know where to turn. A time that all hope seemed to be lost. Perhaps, some of you may even being finding yourselves in that wilderness now. Amid the decorations that we have up in preparation for the Christmas Season, celebrating Christmas may be the farthest thing from your mind.
We may find ourselves longing for days when we felt more comfortable. We even celebrate the days gone past. Richmond has the Good Old Days Festival. My hometown, has a Frontier Days Festival. Now, I am not saying that we should not remember those that have gone before us and helped lay the foundation for our families. These festivals are great for building community and being in relationship with one another. Our Jewish ancestors had several festivals that they celebrated and still celebrate to this day. As we look towards the past, let’s not forget that God is working towards the future.
Those days that we felt comfortable, may have been uncomfortable for others. This is not the kingdom of God that Jesus preaches. The entire world will continue to find itself in the wilderness until we can come together and be reconciled with one another.
In the wilderness the Israelites find hope. While they may have been in the wilderness for decades, Isaiah tells them that their waiting is over and they are being called back to the homeland. It is John the Baptist crying out in the wilderness that proclaims he is clearing the way for someone even greater than him. While John is proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, it is merely with water that he baptizes. It is in the hope of the coming of Jesus Christ that they will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.
John the Baptist prepares the way to lead people out of the wilderness. It is in Jesus Christ that those that have followed John will find the true God. The God that forgives all sins and breathes the Holy Spirit upon people, calling them to continue proclaiming the good news. That is the first verse of Mark, “The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” Mark wants to let his readers know what they are going to be reading. This is the good news that comes to the people of Israel as foretold in the Hebrew scriptures, This is the good news that they have been waiting for. This is the good news that was with creation at the very beginning.
In the midst of our own wilderness, many of us are still searching. Searching for something that may be lost. Searching for meaning in our lives. Searching for what it is God is calling us to. Perhaps, you have given up searching. It is hard work, that is true. As we find ourselves in the wilderness, Jesus never said it was going to be easy.
The people that began following John the Baptist were searching for something. They were longing for something greater. People today are searching as well. Longing for deeper relationships and yearning to find meaning in a life that sometimes feels overburdened by the negativity of our world. It is in the voice crying out in the wilderness that we find our hope. We first hear of Jesus Christ, in the gospel of Mark, from John the Baptist. He is simply preparing the way.
The way has been prepared for us. Jesus has come into the world and fulfilled the prophecy of the prophets. In Jesus Christ, we find the grace of God in flesh for all people. The grace of God that welcomes in saints and sinners alike. The grace of God that calls us out of our longing and searching. The grace of God that loves beyond compare.
As you find yourself in your own wilderness, look for those that have prepared they way, and listen to the voice of God calling you and naming you as a beloved child. For as Mark writes, “this is the beginning of the good news.” Do you understand that? It is just the beginning. We find ourselves in a wonderful story that has not come to completion yet. In this story we find hope and grace.
Let us pray. . . .God that fulfills our longing, we come to you in the middle of our own wildernesses. Reveal to us the calling you have placed on our lives as we desire to follow your Son, Jesus Christ. We give thanks for those that have prepared the way and we ask for strength and perseverance as we wait for your kingdom to fully be upon us. Amen.