It’s a wilderness out there! It’s wild, crazy, full of contradictions and confusion. If we’re not careful, it could eat us up!
Which is why we are looking for shelter, a way station, for comfort. And that is why we cry out for justice and freedom and safety. This advent, we’ve been hearing both kinds of stories.
This season we’ve been hearing on kind of voices forecasting good news. It had been forecasted by media who sent out word well in advance. People made their way from their Thanksgiving tables (some at midnight) to the malls and stores and worldwide web. They cried out in the wilderness for deals. The way was cleared and stores made ready, the paths for savings and deals galore were opened so that all could find the perfect gifts for loved ones.
Out of the wilderness commercials, advertisements, and emails proclaimed savings and people from the whole countryside, in fact the whole developed world came out and bought and charged. You should have seen some of the people, in all kinds of clothing, ragged by the days end. They looked and they looked, so the story goes, until at the close of the day Black Friday (the shopping day after Christmas) and Cyber Monday (the online shopping day after the thanksgiving weekend) saw the sale of over 53 billion in merchandise goodness.
There is a wilderness within our own hearts, a hedge of brambles that too often separates us into opposing camps and allows us to justify casting off and discarding each other.
It sounds like the two voices are worlds apart. But both the annual shopping frenzy and the recent protests arising out of violence—the cry for justice and the quest for gift –are deeply connected.
They are connected by "human desire." We humans are wired to desire and long for that which is outside of ourselves.
In the long lines and the great deals, there is a part of us seeking to purchase and make real our own image of life and relationships. We longs to somehow fill the emptiness that is inside with something that is outside of us.
And in the present political and social turmoil, in our of world of us vs. them, we cry out, we long for, a justice that both eludes us in the face of force that both defies and protects us.
We are built that way. God has made us people who long for more. Christians understand that human desire is created within us so that we will long for that which is outside of our selves - in particular God in Christ Jesus. We are created to be in relationship with God. We are created to long for God. And, we are created to long for one another.
It’s a problem as old as humanity because it goes with being human. We long for something so big and we fill that longing in all kinds of ways…none of them by themselves can do the job.
So we try to meet that longing by purchasing massive amounts of gifts to show we care. We fill that longing with goods and products that promise beauty and normalcy. We fill that longing with media and fill all the quiet moments with playlists and social media that demands our attention. We know there are empty spaces so we try to fill them with food, or things, or sound, or busy-ness.
Every now and then something happens, something that is just so wrong, just so out of kilter, just so unjust, that we get angry, we get up and we march, we fight, we agitate. We want society and the people who govern and our institutions to act fairly, to reflect compassion, to be just and restrain evil.
Advent is a season for longing, for looking for something better. And all the good ways we do good things—our homes, our gifts, our work, our voices, even our governance and our politics—all point us to the ways in which we long for something more.
The message of Mark's Gospel today really is good news. The message is that God is the one we are longing for and in his incarnation Jesus Christ came into the world to fill all the missing pieces of our own soul for the sake of the relationship God desires to have with us.
Not only do we desire God in all these ways. God longs for us.
Ireneaus, the second century bishop and saint, once described the whole reason for God's creative and saving work is God's own deep longing to walk with us, his creation, in the garden at the eve of the day.
The incarnation of Jesus helps to mend that hole in us, and fulfills God’s longing for us. Jesus’ incarnation, cross and resurrection all happens so that we may find our longings transformed and fulfilled in the community of friends called the church. Our sacramental life, our prayer, our companionship, our compassion, all point to the fulfilling of our deep longing and God’s desire for us.
Which is why in today’s Gospel John the Baptist does not point us to a perfect place, but to "The Way." The Gospel of Mark is “the Gospel of The Way.” And The Way leads to the cross and to resurrection. In the Gospel of Mark, John proclaims, Jesus leads us, and the disciples follow.
Walking the way is how we meet our deep longings every day. Walking the way means continually making room in our lives for the God who chooses to make us companions.
What I love about today’s passages is that on the one hand—in Isaiah—God is the one making the paths straight and the valleys low. On the other hand, in the Gospel of Mark, it is we who are to do the work of clearing the path, filling the valleys, to make room in our lives for God. Think of two crews building the same bridge, but one is one bank and the other crew is on the opposite side and they work their way towards each other. And somewhere in the middle, they meet. And people can cross from one side to the other.
As we in Advent, not unlike the inn keeper in another Gospel, create space in our calendars, at our tables, and in our lives (privately and publicly) for God, know that in Jesus God has made space for us!
It is a wilderness out there! It is our wilderness. We live in the wilds of consumer goods, complex lives, poverty, injustice, and, above all, longing. It is a wilderness and the voice is crying out beyond all the noise and the media and all the news. It is a voice that proclaims, "Stop! Listen! Make room for God! Clear away the obstacles!" The God who longs for us is coming to meet us who long for God.