John’s Time (December 9, 2018)
Advent is John’s time.
This wild man of Advent is out in the wilderness, far from the settled life of the city, and he’s drawing crowds.
He’s out in the wilderness, preaching something new, baptizing and crying out, calling people to change, to remake their lives, to get ready, to prepare, to repent.
Advent is John’s time. It’s not time for Jesus yet. That comes later.
This is John’s time. John bursts on the scene encouraging, inviting, shouting out that we ought to be busy preparing for Jesus.
Advent is a time to get ready.
And we are. We are getting ready. We are busy preparing. We’re buying and wrapping gifts. We’re decorating our houses and the church. We’re baking and cleaning and making plans to entertain. We’re writing cards and mailing them. We are busy preparing, getting ready. And even though we complain about it sometimes, we don’t really want to give it up.
But I don’t think that’s what John means. John has a different kind of preparation in mind.
John calls us back to our identity as God’s people. We are part of the Jesus movement, and we live by a different set of values. We are God’s people, who live by a different set of values, who live by God’s gospel priorities. During Advent we prepare, so that we can discern anew where God is to be found in our world.
We get ready in Advent by thinking … pondering … reflecting … deciding anew about how we are going to participate in the Jesus movement.
Here’s an image for Advent which makes sense for me. Advent is a season of pregnancy. When we are pregnant, we spend time thinking … pondering … making our lives ready for new birth. We make changes in our lives, particularly if it’s a first child. We look at the place we live with new eyes … new hopes … new dreams. We know things won’t be the same as they were in the past … but we’re not quite sure how they will be different either. We’re in that in–between time.
In Advent, we are all pregnant. We carry God within us, and in Advent we wait actively, discerning where and how and when God is being born in our lives and in our world.
And John is here to remind us—because we need to be reminded—that we are pregnant. John reminds us—because we need to be reminded—that we carry God within us. John reminds us—because we need to be reminded—that God is coming to birth through us.
In all the ordinary places of our lives, in all the ordinary moments of our days, in all the ordinary acts of compassion and grace and love, God is being born. In us … very ordinary people … the love of God is being made real.
It’s a different kind of preparation. It’s a different way to get ready.
The world celebrates a season which is really pre–Christmas. It’s a busy time of rushing around and making sure everything gets done, everything gets bought, everything gets wrapped and mailed.
But in the church, for us in the Jesus movement, this season is Advent. It’s a time for us to wait, to reflect, to hope, to get ready to give birth.
We prepare the way of the Lord.
Now I’m not naïve enough to think that we can give up pre–Christmas. It’s part of our lives. But in Advent and throughout the year, we are also the people of God’s dream. And we find ways to prepare the way of the Lord, in the midst of all the busyness of pre–Christmas.
We join John, who quotes Isaiah the prophet: “Prepare the way of the Lord.” Prepare the way, because God is coming. Eugene Peterson has a wonderful way of putting it in The Message: “Prepare God’s arrival! Make the road smooth and straight! Every ditch will be filled in, every bump smoothed out, the detours straightened out, all the ruts paved over. Everyone will be there to see the parade of God’s salvation.”
The parade of God’s salvation. The work of Advent is to train our eyes to see it … to notice it … to see signs of God’s wholeness coming to birth.
Now notice this. It all happens in the wilderness.
It can’t happen in our settled life, in our old busy routines, in life as usual. It’s in the wilderness … and the wilderness is an in–between time, an in–between place, and in–between experience. You’ve passed out of the old … you’re not quite in the new yet … and you’re in that in–between place. We have to make some time, some space in our lives.
Scholars call it a “liminal” time. A liminal time or place is an experience out of the ordinary where we face some of the deeper and more important questions about our identity, our loyalty, our priorities.
Carter Heyward puts it this way: “The wilderness is a metaphor for a time or place where we withdraw from business as usual. It’s a period of reckoning with choices made and unmade. It’s a time to ask questions about direction—where to go now?”
Wilderness is an in–between kind of experience, where you’re no longer in the past you’ve come to know, and you’re not quite there in a new future. You’re in–between.
Pregnancy is also a liminal time. The baby hasn’t quite been born yet, but things are not as they were before. You’re not quite in the new part of your life yet … but you’re getting ready, you’re preparing. The way becomes more clear as you do so.
Advent is a time for us to revel in being pregnant. There are going to be changes in our lives … we just aren’t fully aware of those changes yet.
We are getting ready. We are preparing the way of the Lord. Life is changing, and the story of faith tells us over and over again that that’s exactly the time when God shows up. When we are not settled. When we are pondering something new. When we aren’t quite sure what’s happening.
We’re living in John’s time in Advent.
You won’t find palaces or stock markets or shopping malls or temples in the wilderness. All you’ll find in the wilderness is this wild man John, who eats whatever he can find, who clothes himself with the stuff of the wilderness.
Let me invite you to enter John’s time. Let me invite you to revel in being pregnant.
Thanks be to God.
Rev. Dr. Yme Woensdregt (December 9, 2018, 2nd Sunday of Advent)
Luke 3: 1–6
Philippians 1: 3–11
Malachi 3: 1–4