God is in the Wilderness

A Sermon for the 2nd Sunday of Advent (and my first Sunday as a deacon!)

“See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you,
the voice of one crying out in the wilderness.”

In the name of the Triune God: Lover, Beloved, Love. AMEN.

When I sat down and began to process the Scripture readings for today,
I laughed at the synchronicity of it all.
For on this day three years ago,
I was actually standing before you,
Preaching on this Gospel passage from Mark.
And I must admit two and a half years of seminary
Have done my preaching some good.

But I think what struck me most of all,
Was how different the Scripture spoke to me now,
How the words rolled off my tongue at a different pace,
How phrases jumped off the page anew,
As if I was hearing the Word of God for the first time.

Whereas in previous readings of this Scripture,
I had been occupied with baptism,
With the Holy Spirit,
With the Forgiveness of sins;
This time around,
This old reading but at the same time completely new reading of the Gospel,
This time around there was one word that jumped off the page:

What do you think of
When you hear the word wilderness?

In the past I would have assumed wilderness meant desert.
John the Baptist was in a really hot, really dry, really sandy and dirty desert,
With a bunch of locusts jumping around
And some wild honey magically hanging off trees.
In my mind it is a similar desert,
To the wilderness in which the Israelites wandered for forty years.
Or perhaps the same desert that Jesus is driven into
Only four verses later in Mark’s Gospel,
Where we hear Jesus spent forty days and forty nights in the wilderness.

Yet when I read this Scripture again,
Wilderness looked quite different in my mind’s eye.
This time wilderness was the isle of Iona off the rugged coast of Scotland.
It was the moment when I sat on the cold stone steps
Outside of a medieval monastery,
Nothing but pitch black blanketed me.
And the wind howled uncontrollably
Completely surrounding me in its eerie yet mystical song.
Yet it was in that moment enwrapped in God’s creation,
That I realized
God is in the wilderness.

A second time I contemplated this Gospel passage,
And wilderness looked quite different again.
This time wilderness was Mount Hesperus,
The Navajo holy mountain of the North
Nestled amongst the San Juan mountains of Colorado.
It was the moment when I followed my beloved
Up the rocky path towards Shark’s tooth pass,
(Yes, it was as ominous as it sounds)
Through an overgrown forest,
Giant wildflowers shooting up almost to my chin.
And the further we climbed,
The air in my lungs grew tighter as we pushed passed 12,000 feet.
Yet it was in that moment that I realized,
The air I breathe every day,
Is truly the Spirit of God bringing forth life.
God is in the wilderness.

A third time I contemplated this passage from Mark,
And again wilderness looked quite different than before.
This time wilderness was my dorm room in Wilder Hall at Mount Holyoke.
It was the moment when I was crying uncontrollably on my bed,
Mascara stained tears running down my face,
Feeling utterly alone
As I faced my demons and struggled with my depression.
Yet it was in that moment that I looked up above my bed,
And read the hand written words of Psalm 139:
“O Lord you have searched me out and known me.”
“Where can I go from your spirit?
Or where can I flee from your presence?”
God is in the wilderness.

And throughout our salvation narrative,
Throughout the canon of scared Scripture,
We find God is in the wilderness.

Looking at one of the best known Bible stories,
The book of Exodus,
We find the Israelites wandering in the desert
For forty years
As they await their entrance into the Promised Land.
Yet they are not alone in this desolate place,
God is there,
Not only ready to impart God’s holy law in the Ten Commandments,
But also there ready to feed the children of Israel.
During the pitch black cover of night,
As they sleep,
The desert wind gently ruffling through their tents,
God sends down manna —
The bread of heaven to feed these wandering people.
God is there,
Watching over them
From Mount Sinai.
God is on that rugged mountaintop.

And looking at our Old Testament reading today,
Isaiah 40,
We find the people of Israel again,
Far away from their homeland,
Entrapped in lives of captivity,
Under the rule of Babylon,
For generations the Israelites have been suffocated by this foreign empire,
Unable to breathe,
Unable to be who God was calling them to be.
Yet those same writers who are far from the Holy Land
Share their hope in the imminent over throw of Babylon
By the Persian ruler Cyrus,
And their future return to the Promised land.
They assure their people
And assure us,
That the glory of the Lord shall be revealed,
And the word of our God will stand forever.
God is there to lead his people like a shepherd.
For God is there when they are far, far from home.

And turning to the introduction of Mark,
Our Gospel reading for today,
We see the chosen people of God,
Straining under the oppression of the Roman Empire.
Hopelessness and despair are their daily reality,
Mothers’ tears flow forth,
Streaming down their faces,
As the wailing women of Jerusalem,
Mourn the deaths of their sons on wooden crosses.
Yet it is there in the midst of such injustice and chaos,
That God is closest to humanity,
Through the sending of God’s Son,
The incarnation of Jesus Christ,
Which we celebrate in only a few weeks.
God with us,
Emmanuel is in the wilderness.

This is the beauty of our Christian narrative,
Of the story of salvation,
God is, will be, and always has been with us in the wilderness.

And Emmanuel,
God with us,
Is not only the story of our Judeo–Christian narrative,
Our of our waiting for the future coming of Christ,
But it is the reality of all of our wilderness today.

What is your wilderness?

Perhaps it is feeling completely
And utterly unable to do it all.
American culture has taught us to
Over schedule ourselves,
Overwork ourselves,
To over achieve
And over excel
To the point where we no longer
Take care of our selves.
In some ways we perhaps think we are limit–less.
And then one day it all comes crashing down around us.
We are immobilized,
Feeling shame,
Because the pressure is far too great on our human souls.
Yet in those lowest of lows,
God is there,
Reminding us of our boundaries,
Reminding us we need time for self–care,
Reminding us that we do indeed have limits,
And in reality,
The Triune God is the only One who is limitless.
God is in this wilderness.

Or Maybe your wilderness
Is actual bewilderment,
Is an overwhelming feeling of anxiousness,
That accompanies so many of the events
Of racial tension in this country today.
Why is this happening?
Where do we go from here?
What can we do?
That feeling of anxiousness,
That tightening of the chest,
That inability to breathe,
Is in reality the opportunity to beckon the Holy Spirit in,
To let God’s breath of justice and peace fill our souls,
The anxiousness that removes the air from our lungs,
Is actually God making room for love to enter in.
So that the words we speak,
The words we exhale with every breathe,
Become words of reconciliation and truth.
God is in this wilderness.

Or perhaps your wilderness
Is sadness and grief
At the loss of a loved one,
Perhaps at the loss of our beloved parishioner and friend,
Tim Lavelle.
Yet in the moments when the tears stream down our faces,
Grieving the absence of our beloved brother,
God intermingles tears of grief with tears of joy,
And Comforts,
O comforts us,
Because we know the promise
That we will see our loved ones again
In the risen life eternal with Christ.
God is in this wilderness.

So in this Advent season,
As we prepare for that imminent coming of Christ,
I ask you:
Where is your wilderness?
Where in the depths of your soul
Are you longing for God to enter in?
Where are you most in need of Emmanuel,
God with us?

God is there,
Waiting for you
In the darkest of nights,
On the highest of mountains,
In the deepest depths of despair.

God is crying out for you,
From the wilderness.


5 thoughts on “God is in the Wilderness

Add yours

  1. Wow Sarah!!!!

    ​Your words reached in a touched me to the core. Life has taught me that God is and always has been with me in my wilderness. In the dark night of my soul, I am driven to my knees for it is there that God revives me. God is my rock and my comforter.

    Bless you Sarah.


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