This message was offered at Wesley United Methodist Church (Culver, IN) on Sunday, December 9, 2012.
The days are getting shorter (there’s less and less daylight), we’re just sixteen days away from Christmas, and our community is still struggling with unanswered questions about the tragic shooting of two community members. And, so I ask, in the midst of all that is going on: What are you expecting this Christmas? In the midst of darkness, stress, and grief, is it too much—is it inappropriate even—to expect joy this Christmas?
Gracious God, in the moments to come, give me the words to speak and they the ears to hear, that together we might learn and be inspired to live your Word in the world. Amen.
We surround Christmas with a mound of expectations: shopping, decorating, and entertaining. We spend countless hours making final arrangements and putting on the finishing touches so that this Christmas will—dag-nabbit—be perfect. Then, the big day arrives. The table is set. Presents are under the tree. The family gathers. And, we find that in spite of our efforts, people knock heads, children open presents with disappointment saying “I already have this,” and the ham or turkey—the centerpiece of the Christmas meal—is dry. So dry, that, like Ralphie’s family in A Christmas Story, we end up at the local Chinese restaurant (which you have to drive 30 minutes to get to in Plymouth) eating Christmas dinner.
We have a lot of expectations surrounding Christmas. We truly do want it to be perfect: a time when we experience “peace on earth and good will to all persons.” But let’s be honest, life ain’t perfect and the expectations we place around Christmas can all too often leave us disappointed. So, as we prepare for Christmas during this season of Advent. I just gotta ask: what are you expecting this Christmas?
In many ways our plans for Christmas have already been shaken or put on hold as our community grieves the loss of two of its members—Michael Price and Stephen Suthard. It’s hard to believe that with Christmas just sixteen days away—a time that is supposed to be joyous as we enjoy good food, friends and family—we’re stuck in the mire and darkness of tragedy, loss, and grief.
But, hear the good news:
78 Because of our God’s deep compassion,
the dawn from heaven will break upon us,
79 to give light to those who are sitting in darkness
and in the shadow of death,
to guide us on the path of peace.”
The Good News for us today is that in the face of great tragedy in the midst of great struggle—when life seems dark—God is faithful, providing comfort and light to those who are wrestling, grieving, struggling, and wandering….and, that’s a joyous thing…that’s news worth sharing.
God has a way of showing up in unexpected places. In our Gospel lesson for today Luke records that the “word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness.” It is fascinating that the word of God does not come to all the ruling people of day. The word of God did not come to the emperor Tiberius, Pontius Pilate the governor over Judea, Herod ruler over Galilee, his brother Philip ruler over Ituraea and Trachonitis, or Lysanias ruler over Abilene. The word of God did not come to the high priests Annas or Caiaphas. It is an amazing thing, at least to me, that the word of God is not heard by the people who think they have power. It is heard by a man named John sitting in the wilderness.
We’re not told why John is in the wilderness. He may have been forced there. He may have been there by choice. It doesn’t really matter. The fact is, he’s there, in the wilderness—in a place of struggle and darkness. And, it’s there that the word of God was made real. And, that makes sense to me. You see, I think it’s in the wilderness—the dark places where we struggle—that the word of God, Jesus Christ, is heard, experienced and needed most.
If you read the birth narrative of Jesus, the well-known and beloved Christmas story in Luke’s Gospel, you’ll find that it is to the people in the wilderness—to those on the outside—that the word of God is made known. Look it up in Luke, chapter 2!
Mary and Joseph are told there is no room in the Inn and they must go outside, to somewhere else to have the baby, whom we know is none other than the very Word of God incarnate. Furthermore, “And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night” (verse 8). Here are shepherds out in the country, away from the crowd, caring for sheep. Given their vocation it is likely that they were considered unfit for the Imperial Census; they were rejected or at least, over-looked. Not counted in the census they are discredited and denied the stature of full personhood. They are outside too.
And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid (v. 9).
It is these, rejected and outside [those who are pushed out and wandering in the wilderness], who hear the Good News of the coming incarnate Word.
Because, it is in the wilderness—in the place of struggle and darkness—that God’s Word, Jesus Christ, is known and made real.
It was in the wilderness that the word of God came to John. John’s experience with God’s word compelled him to share his experience with others. John couldn’t help put share the Good News and “prepare the way for the Lord:”
calling for people to be baptized to show that they were changing their hearts and lives and wanted God to forgive their sin [the things they had done that separates them and others from God and neighbor]. 4 This is just as it was written in the scroll of the words of Isaiah the prophet,
A voice crying out in the wilderness:
“Prepare the way for the Lord;
make his paths straight.
5 Every valley will be filled,
and every mountain and hill will be leveled.
The crooked will be made straight
and the rough places made smooth.
6 All humanity will see God’s salvation.”
It was in the wilderness that the word of God was made real to John. It was in the wilderness that he proclaimed the Good News and made God’s love real to all who would see and listen. John was, indeed, a “voice crying out into the wilderness” preparing the way for the Lord so that all might see God’s salvation—even those who are struggling in the darkness, forgotten by the world, wandering in the wilderness.
The days are getting shorter, we’re 16 days away from Christmas, and our community is reeling from the tragic murder-suicide of two of its members. Is it too much to expect that this Christmas we’ll find joy? Is it too much to think that all of us will find joy this Christmas?
I don’t think so. Because, I have faith that you, like John, will join me in being “a voice crying out in[to] the wilderness [preparing] the way for the Lord” so that all humanity—even those stuck in the wilderness, a place of struggle and darkness—might know and experience the joy of God’s Word found in Jesus Christ.
 Luke 1:78-79, Common English Bible.
 Luke 3:2, New Revised Standard Version.
 Kyle Childress, “Outside the Inn-siders” <http://www.ekklesiaproject.org/blog/2012/12/outside-the-inn-siders/> Accessed December 5, 2012.
 Luke 3:3-6, The Message.
Filed under: Sermons Tagged: Christianity, Christmas, church, Jesus Christ, john the baptist, joy, religion, United Methodist Church, wilderness