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The Second Sunday of Advent, Year C

Wilderness Thoughts!

Readings: Baruch 5:1-9; Psalm 126; Philippians 1:3-11; Luke 3:1-6

For the most part, the Old Testament stories which we read Sunday by Sunday, recount the conflicts and struggles of the people of Israel.  Once in a while, they offer bright flashes of divine light which speak to us in a much deeper way.  Such passages bring us to a realization of what is to come.  They speak to us through time.  They reveal, not an exact account of future events, but an unfolding of God's plan for the world.  It is such passages which prepare us for the good news of the gospel. 

Such passages were often the inspiration for Luke.  In the events of the life of Christ, he saw the events of the Old Testament coming to pass.  He recognized the coming of the kingdom.  God would visit the planet.  God would be revealed through the coming of Christ.  He saw the need for people to be prepared for that coming. 

The picture which we get of John the Baptist from Scripture is as the last of the Old Testament prophets.  John lived in solitude in the wilderness.  There he had companionship with eternal things.  There he watched stars blaze in the darkness.  There he meditated and prayed.  There he listened to the voice of God.  And there he spoke words of truth.  Difficult words that cut to the heart of the matter.  For his message was a call to repentance and forgiveness.  The baptism of John conveyed,  not what God was saying, but what God was beginning to do. 

To hear such a message required commitment.  It required risk.  It required travelling into the unknown.  If you wanted to hear John preach you did not go to the synagogue. He was not to be found there. You had to go to where he was.  You had to go far out into the Judean wilderness.  You had to be prepared to find God in the least expected places.  And isn't that how it often seems to happen? Isn't it through our wilderness experiences that we are enabled to hear God more directly? 

I had a friend whom I used to visit who lived in the L'arche community, “Daybreak” in Richmond Hill.  L'arche was begun by Jean Vanier to assist those who are developmentally handicapped.  It brings together people of all abilities to help each other.  My friend Tom was a very simple soul.  He lived in the community for over ten years.  It allowed him to live independently in a way that none of us ever thought possible.  He helped to prepare meals and to do the cleaning.  More importantly, he was part of a family. 

In the same house with Tom, lived Henri Nouwen.  You may have heard of him for he was a well known author.  A Roman Catholic priest, an academic, who taught theology both at Yale and at Harvard, he was perhaps an unlikely one to be found in the community.  In his book, "Journey to Daybreak", he recounts the story of his search and how it lead him to take up his life there. 

He was at a point of transition in his life.  He had no idea what he should be doing.  Then one day there was a knock at the door.  He answered it.  It was a young woman. 

"Hi, I'm Jan," she said.  "I bring you greetings from Jean Vanier." 

Immediately his mind went into gear.  Did Jean Vanier want him to speak a conference?  Or direct a retreat?  "That's nice, he said.  "What can I do for you?" 

"Nothing!" she replied.  "I just came to bring you greetings from Jean Vanier."  No matter how much she insisted that her purpose, her only purpose, was to bring greetings, the more Henri thought she must be there to ask him to do something.  Finally the message sank in.  She was bringing him greetings, nothing more. 

Some time later, Jean Vanier phoned.  "Spend a quiet day with me in prayer," he said.  The mind went into gear again.  He must want something.  But he insisted that his only purpose was to pray with him.  His friendship with Jean Vanier lead to a visit to one of the communities of L'arche in France, and ultimately gave him the direction for which he was seeking.  The simple message of greeting opened him up to God's call.  He realized that he didn't have to "do" anything.  He just had to "be".  He ended up leaving the academic life for the community life of L'arche.  He became the chaplain and administrator to Daybreak. 

His learning was perhaps the most important thing that any of us can discover on our spiritual journey.  We are called, not to do, but to be.  To be what God intends us to be.  To be real people living in a real world.  And for most of us that is not a call to anything extraordinary.  It is a call to live our lives intentionally.  To share the love we have for Christ with those who need to hear the message of love. 

But that listening requires that we prepare ourselves carefully.  It requires that we have a prayer life.  That we read and study the scriptures.  That we participate in the life of the church.  And that we carry with us the Christ we serve.

Advent is time of anticipation, a time for looking forward. John the Baptist continues to remind us that we must first look within. We must reflect upon our lives and changes that prepare us for the coming of Christ. Change is a call and a challenge to grow but it is also a reality of life. To live is to change; to grow is to change greatly. John in the wilderness recognized his need to change and grow.

For us too, it means change and growth. There are always mountains and hills in our lives which need to be torn down.  There are obstacles which keep us from living intentionally, which keep us from truly serving God.  Like those who followed John into the wilderness, we begin by asking for forgiveness.  By recognizing what separates us from the love of God.  By recognizing what keeps us from reaching to others.  Those things we bring to God.  Advent is a time to walk into our hearts and to notice the shifting sands of our lives. It is a time to leavethat wilderness place a bit changed and ready to make a difference. Then we are  prepared for Christ to be born in us. 
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