When All Creation Repents

yellowflowerfromthedust2528dt20875082529(Advent 3A) The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad, the desert shall rejoice and blossom; like the crocus 2it shall blossom abundantly, and rejoice with joy and singing. The glory of Lebanon shall be given to it, the majesty of Carmel and Sharon. They shall see the glory of the Lord, the majesty of our God. 3Strengthen the weak hands, and make firm the feeble knees. 4Say to those who are of a fearful heart, “Be strong, do not fear! Here is your God. He will come with vengeance, with terrible recompense. He will come and save you.” 5Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; 6then the lame shall leap like a deer, and the tongue of the speechless sing for joy. For waters shall break forth in the wilderness, and streams in the desert; 7the burning sand shall become a pool, and the thirsty ground springs of water; the haunt of jackals shall become a swamp, the grass shall become reeds and rushes. 8A highway shall be there, and it shall be called the Holy Way; the unclean shall not travel on it, but it shall be for God’s people; no traveler, not even fools, shall go astray. 9No lion shall be there, nor shall any ravenous beast come up on it; they shall not be found there, but the redeemed shall walk there.10And the ransomed of the Lord shall return, and come to Zion with singing; everlasting joy shall be upon their heads; they shall obtain joy and gladness, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.   (Isaiah 35: 1-10)

So, this is probably the Scripture that conjures up that somewhat unreachable and perhaps inaccessible utopian paradise.  But it’s not inaccessible.  The whole idea is that it WILL come to be.  And Advent reminds us to look for that day, to imagine it into being.  It is a tension in which we live every day of our lives.  We want it, we imagine it, and, on a good day, we believe it will happen.  And then we turn on the TV.  But it is a holy tension, a liminality, if you will, betwixt and between the turmoil and grit of our lives and the promise that we believe.

This is Creation’s repentance.  It is Creation turning around and going a different direction.  We’re familiar with that.  When we talk of our own, it is uncomfortable to launch off into another direction, to begin to travel where GPS is not available and to a place with a story that we are writing as we go.  But here we are told that the desert will bloom.  The desert—that mass of dry sand that blows in our eyes and clouds our views, the place where we cannot map where we go, the land where water is scarce and sustenance is hard to find—will bloom!  The desert will turn and become something new.  Blindness will become sight; deafness will become music; the lame will leap and the mute will sing.  The waters will flow with thirst-quenching sound and the lost way will become a clear path.  Creation will become something new.

So, if Creation can do that, why can’t we?  Why can’t we let go of our fears and our preconceptions?  Why can’t we become something new?  Why can’t we rejoice and bloom?  No more excuses.  No more delay.  This is not some far-removed vision of a pile of sand with a flower.  This is what we have been given. And Advent calls us to begin to see its potential.  Advent calls us to begin to see our own potential. Have you ever thought that perhaps our faith journey is not about finding God at all but rather finding ourselves?  God is here.  Whether we feel God or not, God is here.  But us?  How much faith do you have in yourself?  God has faith in you.  God created you to do this, to turn, to change, to repent, to bloom.  So for what are you waiting?  After all, the desert is beginning to bloom.

Here is the God I want to believe in: a Father who, from the beginning of Creation, has stretched out his arms in merciful blessing, never forcing himself on anyone, but always waiting; never letting his arms drop down in despair, but always hoping that his children will return so that he can speak words of love to them and let his tired arms rest on their shoulders. His only desire is to bless. (Henri J.M. Nouwen)

FOR TODAY:  How are you being called to bloom?

 

Grace and Peace,

Shelli

 

Becoming Wilderness

"St. John the Baptist", El Greco, c. 1600.
“St. John the Baptist”, El Greco, c. 1600.

Scripture Text:  Matthew 3: 1-5

 In those days John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness of Judea, proclaiming, 2“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” 3This is the one of whom the prophet Isaiah spoke when he said, “The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.’” 4Now John wore clothing of camel’s hair with a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey. 5Then the people of Jerusalem and all Judea were going out to him, and all the region along the Jordan, 6and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.

 

We never know quite what to do with this strange wilderness man.  You can imagine him covered with dirt and grime after all this time in the wilderness.  His hair is long and unkempt, matted in places and hanging down over one of his eyes.  He is decked out from neck to knee in some sort of strange covering made of camel’s hair that is secured by a roughshod faded leather belt hastily tied around his waist.  And all this time in the wilderness has caused him to lose any hint of a sophisticated palate finely tuned to the gentle blend of herbs and spices and culinary concoctions.  Instead, he is content to eat what he finds—locusts, wild honey, whatever else may cross his path.  Yeah, we never know quite what to do with this strange wilderness man.

John was definitely not a run-of-the-mill preacher.  He had zeal; he had passion; his primary focus was preparing the way of the Lord.   I’m not sure what John saw for those who did not know God.  But he was determined that all who came out to him somehow, some way turned their lives around.  Now this whole idea of “repentance” that John emphasized is not one that we good Methodists often focus on.  It sometimes sounds a little too “hellfire and brimstone” for us. But repentance means turning around, a new mind, a change of direction.  It means throwing off those things that bind us to the life we know for those things that point to a life with God.  It does not mean that God has finally won us over; it means, rather, that our own self, our own story, has finally come to be.  Just being there is not enough; just having Abraham for your ancestor is not enough; just doing the right thing is not enough.  You must change your life.  You must change your path.  You must change how you look at the world.  There are no favorites.  This includes everyone.

So, why did John make his home in the wilderness?  Why didn’t he come to town, plant himself in the middle of the town square, and preach his message there?  Maybe it was not that John himself had such an affinity for the wilderness life.  Maybe it was rather that he saw what we often avoid.  I mean, think about the wilderness—it calls us into things outside our normal routines, outside of the establishments that make up our lives.  The wilderness calls us to learn to see things anew.  Without routines, we have to rely on something that will point us in the right direction; without our comfortable landmarks and our timeworn assumptions, we have to rely on the wilderness and those who we meet on the path showing us the way.

No, we don’t know what to do with him.  We don’t know how to talk to or talk about this wild wilderness man.  After all, John is a threat to proper society and accepted norms.  John IS the wilderness.  Maybe that’s what we need to do—become wilderness.  Now I’m not ready to don camel’s hair and I’m thinking that I might pack some peanut butter and crackers and perhaps a high-protein granola bar to avoid EVER having to eat locusts.  But maybe I do need to become wilderness, to clear the timeworn path through my life, to become open to the wildness of God’s Spirit that blows in and out of places that I never knew, that somehow compels me to travel down roads unknown, sometimes with fear and trepidation, and be willing (no, actually WANT to) turn myself around and see what I have not seen.

OK, John, I guess we get it.  I’m still not keen on the outfit and the meal, but if our Lenten journey has taught us anything, it is to open ourselves to traveling through what we do not know so that it can all be revealed to us.  John saw something that I have been avoiding.  John was not waiting for God’s Kingdom to come to be; he saw it happening.  By becoming wilderness, by stepping out of what he knew, he saw that God was not just coming but was already here.

 

Not only is another world possible, she is on her way. On a quiet day, I can hear her breathing. (Suzanna Arundhati Roy)

 

FOR TODAY: Become wilderness. Open your eyes and see God’s Kingdom coming to be. (And, if you need to, pack some peanut butter!)

Grace and Peace,

Shelli