The Holy Gospel according to Luke the third chapter:
In the fifteenth year of the reign of Emperor Tiberius, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was ruler of Galilee, and his brother Philip ruler of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias ruler of Abilene, during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness. He went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, as it is written in the book of the words of the prophet Isaiah, "The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: "Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth; and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.' " Luke 3:1-6 The Gospel of the Lord.
The Word of God in the Wilderness
Luke begins this passage with a list of the “powers that be” of the time. He includes not one or two – but seven leaders of the world. These are the people that are in the news. These are the people that get the headlines, that have the power. But… notice: the Word of the Lord doesn’t come to any of these. Instead, Luke writes, “”the word of God came to John son of Zechariah… in the wilderness.”
Compared to the first seven names, John was a nobody. He didn’t have any of the vestiges of power or wealth or prestige or position. He was a young and in the wilderness, place where no one who could avoid it would go. After all… the places of power and influence were in Jerusalem, Athens, and Rome.
The wilderness was a dangerous barren place of waiting, testing and challenge. The wilderness is where God sent the people of Israel after leaving Egypt – the most technically advanced country of the time. The wilderness is where bandits and outlaws fled as well as people who wanted or needed to live outside of grasp of the power of the world. It’s where Moses fled and where Jesus was driven. It was a dangerous barren place of waiting, testing and challenge.
And yet… Luke writes…“”the word of God came to John son of Zechariah… in the wilderness.” So… essentially… the word of God came to a no-body in the midst of no-where. But…that’s often how the Word of God shows up.
Where do we expect power to be? Maybe if Luke was writing today, he would say: In the second year of the presidency of Donald Trump, while Mark Dayton was governor of Minnesota, and Putin was ruler of Russia and Angela Merkel was chancellor of Germany while Pope Francis was leader of the Roman Catholic Church and the Rev. Elizabeth Eaton was bishop of the ELCA, the Word of God came to… Becca… and the children of God at Faith-Lilac Way… and to you.
The Word of God is not limited to those that the world deems powerful or privileged or in positions of authority. As we see in Luke, God – and the Word of God -- shows up in surprising places.
This past week, I heard the Word of God in some of the places that I expected to find the Word of God and in some surprising places.
I heard the Word of God in worship on Wednesday night. It was a small gathering at our midweek service but those who came read scripture, prayed and… as we lit the first Advent candle, we sang of hope, the hope of God in our midst – despite the challenges of the world around us. It was refreshing– I hope for others – but certainly for me – to hear the words of God’s promise of God’s presence with us in the midst of the life’s ordinary challenges.
But I also heard the Word of God when I met with Becca. From our backgrounds, it would seem unlikely that Becca and I would meet. Before moving to Minnesota, I grew up on a dairy farm in Wisconsin in a Scandinavian-American Lutheran family. Becca was raised in an Asian-American Buddhist family and grew up in California. Our stories sound pretty different. But… Becca has an quite the story.
Becca studied and became a financial accountant in a big firm. But…because of work, she and her husband moved to Ohio. She was a person of faith – a Buddhist --but since the closest temple was quite a drive away, she found that she just wasn’t getting to worship. So… they started to attend a place of worship in their neighborhood. It happened to be a church… a Lutheran church. And in that Lutheran church, the Word of God spoke to Becca….and called her into ministry to proclaim the Good News of Jesus.
In just a few minutes, the youth and children of this congregation will be donning shepherd and angels costumes in preparation of the annual Christmas program. It doesn’t matter how many times I hear the story, somehow, the story of the birth Jesus, who came in a very ordinary way as a vulnerable baby to a poor unwed mother - when it comes through the voices and actions of children is always extraordinary and always new. Perhaps it is because, again, the Word of God comes powerfully through ordinary people – like me and you.
How is the Word of God coming to and through you?
Perhaps you are in a wilderness right now. As I visit people in the hospital or go with my mother to her doctor appointments – as I did this past week, I look at people’s faces. Sometimes I see the anxiety and fear of the unknown. Other times, I see weariness and pain. Often… people are just waiting… hoping but not knowing. This is wilderness time. And… oddly enough… this is one of the times that people are often open to hearing the Word of God in a new way.
The Word of God comes to us in many ways. I invite you to be open to the way of God’s Spirit this Advent time. Our culture makes Advent into a time of busy-ness. But Advent is also a time of waiting… watching… and listening for the way God is speaking to us anew.
There is both hope and disruption, promise and proclamation in the words that John quotes from the book of Isaiah. "The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: "Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth; and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.' "
Valleys are filled; mountains and hills are leveled; the crooked made straight, the rough places made smooth. Isaiah and John proclaim big changes in the environment around them. And change is not always easy. But…the good news of God prevails. For “all flesh shall see the salvation of God.” This is God’s promise – for you… and for your neighbor. Thanks be to God! Amen.
Pastor Pam Stalheim Lane
Faith-Lilac Way Lutheran
2nd Sunday of Advent, Dec 9, 2018