We are not alone in the wilderness! Here on this second Sunday of Advent, in our gospel lesson from Mark, we hear of how God sent John the Baptist, like other prophets before him, calling us from our wandering ways to come home, calling us in the midst of our struggling lives; to know that in God our refuge we are home. That rooted in God our refuge we are called to be a comfort and refuge for others.
I have a story for you. In this month’s Living Lutheran magazine, Bishop Elizabeth Eaton writes about traveling to Honduras with a group of folks from the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America – the ELCA of which we are a part. They went to hear first-hand about the plight of migrant minors, who had tried to flee Honduras because of gangs who had killed family members and extortion from organized crime. Turned away from entering the United States, these Hondurans had found refuge and help in being resettled in safer places back in Honduras through the efforts of the ELCA, in partnership with the Lutheran World Federation and our Mennonite siblings. The ELCA’s effort is this is known by an acronym based on the Spanish word, “amparo,” which means “shelter,” or “refuge.”
You and I are a part of this work in tangible ways: a portion of our offerings to Redeemer get sent on to our area Synod and then on to the national ELCA Church, so our hands and hearts and prayers are a part of this AMMPARO work, this work of God creating refuge for those living through wilderness times.
We are not alone in the wilderness! And even as we find ourselves gathered in, called by the prophetic voice that declares that God desires healing and wholeness - “straight shall be what long was crooked” – we should not be surprised if at some point we also find that we ourselves are being sent to participate in Christ’s healing for others.
That’s the way it often works, isn’t it? We labor through grief from the loss of a loved one and as we find a way forward through our grief, we suddenly meet others who are grieving and we have the opportunity to connect them to resources and maybe even share a shoulder to cry on. We travel the road of recovery ourselves from alcohol and other drugs and suddenly find that we have been equipped with tools to support others still struggling in that wilderness of addiction. We are broken by divorce, depression, financial struggles, you name it! And as we are given opportunities by Christ for our own healing, we find that we suddenly, or perhaps slowly and over a long period of time, that we are called out of the wilderness and then to meet others in their wilderness, who God is still seeking to help.
As we are met in the wilderness we are called to be healing by Christ, and then sent to be a healing for others.
Some of us may have heard of Dave Brubeck, a very famous jazz musician. Dave Brubeck would have been 100 years old this week, and I heard an interview with him that was re-aired from back before he died, just shy of 92 years old.
As Dave was talking in the interview about how he got his start in music, he shared the story of being over on the front lines of World War II in Europe. He was there to make music to lift the spirits of the men heading in and out of combat on a daily basis. And, he said, his jazz band was composed of soldiers who had been injured on front lines. When the doctors or nurses would hear that someone wounded was a musician, they would send them to Dave Brubeck to join the jazz band.
Dave said things were so intense on the front lines that the USO didn’t even usually try to bring their music and entertainment up there. When they did, it didn’t usually work because the guys at the front lines struggled to relate to the USO entertainers. Yet when Dave Brubeck’s band went to the front lines, the men sat forward and listened because they knew the guys in the band had been just like them, up there serving on the front lines. So, they could hear them and receive the gift of comfort and inspiration they brought through music.
Those who have lived in the wilderness have a unique ability to reach those still living in the wilderness.
Mark’s gospel, that we heard read today, starts with the declaration that it is the good news of Jesus, and then we are thrust immediately into the wilderness by the narrative of the gospel. But it turns out we were already there. We’ve been there, or we are there, and we will end up in the wilderness again. Yet it also turns out that we are not alone in the wilderness. We are never alone. On this Advent journey to the manger God in scripture reminds of the prophetic voices God sends into the wilderness of our lives and world to remind us of this truth: we are not alone, and there is a Greater Story of redemption into which the fabric of our lives, and the lives of those Honduran migrants, and the lives of Dave Brubeck and the men on those front lines is woven. We journey in this wilderness, but there is a light that is being prepared in a manger where soon, so soon again, the Christ Child, Jesus; the Source of all things, Savior, and Redeemer, who is indeed the good news, will be born again. Amen.