The Forerunner!

The Forerunner!

Isaiah 40:1-11 
Psalm 85:1-2,8-13 
2 Peter 3:8-15a 
Mark 1:1-8 

Prepare the way of the Lord; make his paths straight.  For the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all people shall see it together. Luke 3:4; Isaiah 40:5

God for whom we wait and watch, you sent John the Baptist to prepare for the coming of your Son: give us courage to speak the truth even to the point of suffering. This we ask through Christ our Saviour. Amen.

Gospel from Mark 1:1-8
The Proclamation of John the Baptist
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; 3the voice of one crying out in the wilderness: “Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight”, 4John the baptiser appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 5And 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. 6Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. 7He 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. 8I have baptised you with water; but he will baptise you with the Holy Spirit.’

Tena koutou katoa e te whanau o Te Wairua Tapu.

Well whanau, I don’t want to be the bearer of bad news but we won’t be having karakia at the church until work is completed on the roof. There is far to much dust falling since the roofies stripped off all the slate tiles. So, we will keep you informed as to when we will return.

Last Sunday was the First Sunday of Advent and we heard about the sun being darkened, the moon no longer giving it’s light, the stars falling from the sky and the powers of heaven being shaken. It’s the end. That’s probably how some us felt when we closed the church last Sunday. It was hard enough when we were closed for Easter. Now it looks like we won’t be celebrating Christmas together as the body Christ at Te Wairua Tapu! But it’s not the end of the world or the end of life. It’s rather an ending of our story for another year. Not the way we planned it but here we are. You see, we have heaps of stories, events and experiences that have shaped and continue to form who we are, how we are, and the ways in which we see and relate to God, the world, each other and ourselves. Every story we have gives us meaning, identity and direction.

Sometimes, however, our stories can no longer support our lives. Instead of growing our lives they stop our growth and can no longer take us no further. It’s not that they are necessarily bad or wrong, it’s just that we need a different story, a bigger story and a life giving story. In some ways we are always living into that new story. That means we must let go of our stories so that a new story can be told, a new life can be lived and “the one who is more powerful” can come to us. That’s hard work and it’s often painful. Most of us hold onto our stories pretty tightly even when they are no longer helpful and often in spite of the harm they cause us. We cling to our stories believing that any story is better than no story. Letting go of our old stories, is what today’s gospel calls “preparing the way of the Lord.” It’s the way by which we re-calibrate our lives to “the one who is more powerful.”

If last week’s gospel revealed Advent to be a season of necessary endings, then this week’s gospel reveals Advent to be a season of time in the wilderness. It’s not by accident that today’s gospel takes us to the wilderness. Our meeting with John the Baptist is no fluke. The lectionary, the assigned scripture readings for each Sunday, is not simply luck of the draw. There is a particular sequence between last week, the First Sunday of Advent, and today, the Second Sunday of Advent. It’s a movement that takes us from an ending to the wilderness. It reflects the reality of our lives. It’s a sequence I know well. Whenever I have accepted an ending of one of my stories I have always ended up in the wilderness. Overwhelmed and a bit lost, vulnerable and at risk, a bit afraid, angry and resentful. The old story ends and the new one starts but not totally clear. I am always in that in-between space waiting to see what might happen. Whether or not I know it, I wait for “the one who is more powerful.” Waiting for Jesus.

I reckon most of you reading this know what I mean. You could all speak about a time in the wilderness. Think about your own stories – the ones that have ended or the ones that are ending – and you’ll understand what I’m talking about. The most significant changes and transitions in our lives lead us to the wilderness. As difficult as the wilderness maybe it’s the place in which we prepare the way of the Lord. After the Israelites left Egypt they went to the wilderness. It was their preparation for the promised land. After Jesus was baptised he went to the wilderness. It was his preparation for his public ministry. And in today’s gospel, John the Baptist appears in the wilderness helping the people prepare for the coming of “the one who is more powerful.” That’s what time in the wilderness does. It prepares the way of the Lord.

Time in the wilderness seems to be the norm for God’s people. Wilderness time doesn’t make “the one who is more powerful” show up. It insures that when he does we will be there, we will be ready and we will have shown up. The wilderness isn’t the geography around us but the geography within us. It’s our interior landscape. There is no where to hide in the wilderness. There are no illusions or distractions. The wilderness strips us of all pretense and we are left to face up to ourselves, to examine our hearts and to confess the truth about our lives.

The wilderness isn’t a place of exile or punishment, it’s a place of self-discovery. We discover that we can no longer live by our own self-sufficiency. That doesn’t mean we are deficient or insufficient. It means there is more to life and more to us than what our own self-sufficiency can give. Many of our stories have, however, convinced us that we are or should be self-sufficient. The wilderness always proves otherwise. In the wilderness we ultimately discover that we are in need of and have no where else to turn but to “the one who is more powerful.” It reveals that our self-sufficiency is our downfall.

Maybe that’s why John the Baptist is our wilderness guide and why he is called the Forerunner of Christ. That’s why he is the voice crying out in the wilderness, “Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.” John knows what he’s talking about. Look at him – clothed with camel’s hair and a leather belt around his waist, eating locusts and honey. That’s more than a description of his wardrobe and diet. It reveals the state of John’s heart and it shows that he has let go of all of his pretense. He knows he’s dropped all of his defences and he entrusts everything to “the one who is more powerful.” So much so that he declares himself unworthy to even untie Christ’s sandals. You see, when we let go, the wilderness opens our minds to a bigger story, opens our heart to a new life and turns our gaze to the one who is coming. It frees us of pretense, pre-occupations and the accumulations of life that weigh us down. It restores to us the original beauty of our creation and creates space, time and place for the one who is coming.

What stops us from allowing Christ to come to us is the power of our own self-sufficiency, which is usually disguised as busyness, we have no free space in our diaries, the never ending to do lists and the exhaustion that permeates so many of our lives. It’s at the core of many of the judgments we make about others. The unending search for approval, recognition, and accomplishment is driven by a story of self-sufficiency. Of course, we aren’t helpless. We have responsibility for ourselves and to others. We have resources and abilities. But we live overly self-sufficient lives that we close ourselves off. We isolate, therefore, we declare the way of the Lord to be a closed road. Maybe the greatest tragedy is that when we live from a place of self-sufficiency we make ourselves the more powerful one and we have no need of each other or of Christ, the one who is coming. Maybe our self-sufficiency is really the only thing that ever keeps Christ from coming to us. So give it up! Trust in the wilderness of Advent. That just might be the beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, in our lives. Then you and I would discover that our lives are sufficient for God and we would know ourselves to be God-sufficient people. Amen.

The Venerable Kaio Karipa
Sydney Maori Anglican Fellowship Church of Te Wairua Tapu

Photo taken December 2019 Advent Week 2