Have you ever come out of the Cathedral here after a service and stopped and looked down Burrard St, past Canada Place, and seen the Snow-capped mountains? I’m sure many of us have.
I’m sure that many of us have for a moment, stopped and stood in awe
at the beauty of the wilderness outside our doors.
It’s raining today of course! But this week we have had some beautiful clear skies. And this city has a special way of reminding us when the skies clear of our size compared to creation.
We are reminded in the city that no matter how tall we construct buildings. The mountains will always tower over what we build.
God is always bigger.
And when we can get outside of the city rather than just seeing it, we feel creation inside of us something stirs in us, when the crisp air of the trees fills our lungs, our hearts are restored and our minds are calm.
We somehow feel, just for a moment, whole again.
There are so many Stories of people going into the wild to lose and find themselves. In the book Wild, a true story of a young women who hiked the pacific crest trail Cheryl Strayed says something that I think many of us can relate to. When she is out in the wild she says ‘I’m lonelier in my real life… than I am here.’
Have you ever felt like this?
This past year we have experienced a change in our sense of space,
our homes right now are where we live, our place to eat, to sleep, to work, to play and right now, where we worship.
As we worship this morning, we have heard the lesson from Isaiah,
the song of proclamation that says:
A voice cries out: “In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord,
make straight in the desert a highway for our God.”
Or is it:
A voice cries out in the wilderness “prepare the way of the Lord,
make straight in the desert a highway for our God”
The quotation marks in this sentence change the way it reads
And this varies translation to translation…
Is it God calling us to go into the wilderness and prepare a way
or is it someone calling from the wilderness us to do God’s will?
In Mark’s Gospel the voice from the wilderness is given flesh, ragged clothes and humanity. The voice is dressed in camel’s hair with a leather belt, eating locusts and wild honey. Without the scene of the nativity,
Mark’s Gospel simply shows John who points away from himself and towards the Divine. This is the Holy presence of God who has come among us.
So, did the author of the Gospel of Mark get that interpretation right? That sounds like a question for someone recently out of seminary, doesn’t it?
But.. rather than answering that, I’m going to tell you about the best homework we had at Vancouver School of Theology. It was from Pat Dutcher-Wall’s Hebrew Bible class where we given a blank map of the Ancient Near East and we had to populate it with places, cities, ports and infamously, the trade routes! Each and every year there would be whispers in the corridor about where you could find the one book in the library that had a map with paths and roads on it!
It was a fun exercise, but her point was really clear and it has of course stuck. The Trade routes & roads in the land of the Near East were so important. The roads on the map, weren’t an inanimate inconsequential detail. Roads meant trade, the movement of practices, religions
and of course war. Roads were the conduits of culture, where ideas were shared and carried from one place to the next.
From the north road came the Babylonians. Their invasion took the Israelites into exile & away from their homeland. So, Isaiah 40 where our reading this morning comes from was written, in exile, looking back towards Jerusalem, from a place of loss, seeking home.
The cry to “make straight in the desert a highway for our God”, was to prepare for the journey home, to take their God in their hearts and in their community, back to Zion and the Temple in Jerusalem and return to the practices and worship that they had lived by.
The space between Babylon and Jerusalem was desert, there were valleys, hills and dry plains. The task of returning home was to prepare and make the journey, not just physically, but spiritually as well. To be on the straight path, to bridge the gap between exile and home, like the people of Ancient Israel, we today in our world are preparing in this Holy Season, and in our lives we are making plans. In our minds and our hearts we are contemplating what this festival of gathering together will look like in our homes, perhaps alone and maybe what not being in Church with our friends may feel like.
Each year Christmas comes, and each year the message of hope is there. But the preparation particularly this year, comes from the acceptance that we live in the wilderness.
The coming of Christ, the coming of hope and purpose comes from the place of preparing in the wilderness, we are creating the path that carries divine presence home.
This year, more so than many before us, has felt like we are in the collective wilderness. Even though we may at times feel alone, we know that we are all going through this. In our journey back to normality we face mountains, desert, and thirst. The way to returning to how things were before, is fraught with fear. For the Ancient Israelites, their fear was shared together, they asked the question: what if God’s presence can no longer be found in the temple in Jerusalem when we get back there?
What if God has abandoned the city where God once dwelt?
Our fear around returning to our community in our world today is real also. Will we make it through to see everything return to normal?
Will it feel different to be in crowds of people again?
Will the things that I loved to do, simply have changed forever?
The Christmas Story offers us hope, and this morning as we look towards Christmas we are called to action.
While the story of John the Baptist is the colorful and iconic story
of the wild man who comes out of the bush. The Character of John the Baptist is so key in the Christmas story, because the story of John is invitational. We are invited to become John in the way that we see Christ.
We prepare the world for Christ every day in our lives, through our actions, by how we treat our neighbors, by how we show grace and compassion. This is how we prepare the way for Christ, how we both worship and anoint God’s presence in the world, how we baptize God into the family of our community and we make our spaces Holy through our actions and our call to live out God’s purpose in the world.
Like the trade routes on the map of the Ancient Near East, like the path through the desert toward Jerusalem, we are the ones that carry the culture of our faith. We are the ones that bring conversation with people
from different places, of different faiths, of different worldviews and different economic circumstances.
Never in our world have we been more able or empowered to be able to make a difference, with the tools of technology and resource, our capacity to bring justice, reconciliation and peace has never been so greatly within our control.
Let us prepare the way for the coming of Christ
May we become the channel
that God’s purpose speaks through.
In the midst of our wilderness.