Uploaded by macplymouth1 on 24.10.2010

Before I read the Scripture I need to let you In on a secret you may notice today and
In future weeks when I preach that one. I am not preaching from the Lectionary, In fact
you may notice that the text that I'm preaching on are completely out of context of the church
year. For example the text for today is typically one we read in Advent. Two you may notice
the text I'm preaching on tend to be strange or difficult parts of the Bible. The secret
is this. I'm in preaching class. These are assigned texts and as a result this semester
I am doubling up on sermons. So I thank you for your forgiveness In having to hear such
strange or out of context readings and I thank you for your grace and sticking with me.
Our Scripture today is from the Gospel of Mark, chapter 1, verses 1-8 
  The beginning of the good news of Jesus
Christ, the Son of God—  
As it is written in the prophet Isaiah— “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.’”
  John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness,
proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And people from the
whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were
baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. Now John was clothed with camel’s
hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. He proclaimed,
‘The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop
down and untie the thong of his sandals. I have baptized you with water; but he will
baptize you with the Holy Spirit.’  
May these words be our light and our life.  
These are the first words of Mark’s gospel. Unlike Luke and Matthew, we don’t begin
with lovely stories of Jesus’ birth. There are no engaging stories of angels singing
or of unplanned, impossible pregnancies, of long travels or of a census being taken. We
don’t hear about an inn that’s packed full so that some of the guests have to stay
in a barn. There are no wise ones being guided by stars and dreams, or a birth so miraculous
that the shepherds and angels and cows and sheep and kings far away do everything they
can to see the tiny baby with ten fingers and ten toes sleeping in the hay.
This is not the story that Christmas pageants are made of, with images of merry angels with
tinsel garland halos, or of shepherds trying not to trip over robes that were once bed
sheets as they walk up the aisle of the sanctuary. No. Mark’s words are very different. When
compared to the rich stories and colorful images that Matthew and Luke bring up in our
memories, Mark’s gospel feels cold. Inaccessible. Austere. No hopeful symbol in the form of
a baby’s birth. No birth at all! No, instead of the baby Jesus in a manger with stars and
moon and angels and sheep and donkeys and shepherds singing praises, we have John, wearing
bizarre clothing and eating bugs dipped in honey. Yes, we have John. In the wilderness. 
The wilderness. Severe. Harsh. The place, in literature, that symbolizes ambiguity,
doubt. Chaos. The place Hester Prynne, sentenced to wear the letter A, for adulteress, is forced
to live. The place through which Dorothy and her friends must travel to get to the Emerald
City, and yes, even the forbidden place that Harry Potter and his friends are occasionally
compelled to go during their time at Hogwarts. The wilderness is where we are face to face
with our fear—the things we hoped wouldn’t happen, the place where—if we can—we must
face and let go of that which binds us.  But the wilderness is also the holy place,
where Hagar names God after she and Ishmael are saved from death; where God appears to
Moses in the burning bush. It is the place through which the Israelites travel following
their exodus from Egypt, before their freedom in the promised land.
Where is the wilderness today? Might it be the place through which immigrants travel
amidst threats of heatstroke, death and deportation? Might the wilderness be the place of division
between Tea Party “mamma grizzlies” and “bleeding heart liberal hippies” both
of whom realize that the system is broken? It is surely the place of motivation for Stephen
Colbert’s facetious “March to Keep Fear Alive” that happened yesterday in Washington
D.C.  The wilderness is where people who love one another are openly discriminated
against because they are the same sex. It is the place of outsider-ness described by
Larry Bob Roberts, son of, Joel and Gale Roberts. Son of this church in his book of satirical
essays called “The International Homosexual Agenda”. The wilderness is the place where
people find it difficult to make rent or mortgage payments in a struggling economy.
Where are our own places of wilderness? The wilderness seems enjoyable enough to talk
about…until we actually are in it. We instinctively live our lives to remove ourselves from the
wilderness, don’t we?  And yet the things that terrify us will hold us captive until
we face them. We all have a wilderness from which we protect
ourselves. Most of us are better at thinking of wilderness than facing our own journeys
in it. Perhaps your wilderness is that your family life has turned out to be nothing like
you imagined it; perhaps its harder and more painful than you’d ever expected. Perhaps
your wilderness is the loss of a job, the end of a relationship, ambiguity about your
future, a struggle with addiction or illness. Perhaps your wilderness is being bullied by
your peers at school, or the realization that retirement is lonelier than you’d thought.
Yesterday, a family friend, a surrogate grandmother to my sister’s family unexpectedly died.
After spending the day there yesterday, I can tell you, that is the wilderness. I suspect
that you know what your place of wilderness is. It is the place we feel disoriented, if
not outright terrified or alone.