Try a Little Wilderness (It's All You Gotta Do...)

The texts for Advent 2 can be found by following this link: (I invite you to give them a read…)

Baruch 5: 1 - 9

Wow, we don’t wander into Baruch too often, so let’s take a look at what is so important about this text.

According to Josephus, Baruch was a Jewish aristocrat who was connected to the court of King Zedekiah – the subject of last week’s pun from the prophet Jeremiah. Somehow he got mixed up with the prophet and became Jeremiah’s scribe and wrote down the first and second editions of his prophecies. And, he remained loyal to the vision and teachings of the prophet, though both he and Jeremiah – as near as we can tell – were at times overwhelmed with distress and depression.

While Jeremiah was in hiding to avoid the wrath of King Jehoakim, he commanded Baruch to read his warnings to those who gathering in the Temple of Jerusalem on a day of fasting. (Thanks a lot, Jerry). Both men witnessed the siege and fall of Jerusalem, and were carted off to Egypt as the locals scattered.  Because of his relationship to the prophet Jeremiah, this book is attributed to Baruch.

And, this book picks up the theme of hope that Jeremiah kindles in the face of the Babylonian onslaught. While the siege is under way, Jeremiah purchases the field of Anathoth – where the Babylonian army is encamped. This shrewd move is a sign to the people the God will restore the people and the city. (Now, that’s faith, and – if Jeremiah is proved right – a sound investment). While Baruch writes to explain the crushing defeat and exile as a moment of judgment, in this text he speaks of restoration, calling upon the people to take off their garments of sorrow and affliction. Instead of judgment, Baruch speaks in hope, of God’s mercy and justice, and the return of the children of Jerusalem from the east and the west.

Philippians 1: 3 - 11

Another letter from prison… this time to the church established in Philippi, where Paul had visited somewhere around the year 50, during his second missionary journey. This portion we consider today – still part of the greeting – is similar to last week’s snippet from the first letter to the Thessalonians, filled with praise and encouragement. Now, as it turns out, in next week’s texts, we get part of the end of letter to Philippi, so it might be fair to ask just what we are missing in between ‘hello’ and ‘goodbye’.

A couple of themes emerge, centered on imitation of Christ. In the third chapter, Paul calls upon the Philippians to imitate him, and to observe those who live according to the example of Paul and his companions. Practice what you were taught and what you observed.

In the second chapter, he writes of having the same mind as Christ, meaning that they are to pattern their conduct after the obedience and suffering of Jesus. (“Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others…” “let the same mind be in you that was also in Christ Jesus.”)

A life lived in peace, pushing back against the violence of the system, will know suffering. But, let us remain faithful to the call to live in peace.

Luke 3: 1 - 6

Like Mark, Luke takes some liberties with the Isaiah quotation. Isaiah’s 40th chapter reads: “A voice cries out: ‘In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low…”

Luke quotes it this way: “A voice cries out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God…”

Isaiah – like Baruch – is talking about the return of the exiles to Jerusalem. The returnees are going to slog through about 900 miles of wilderness, but it will not be a hard journey. Every valley will be lifted up and every mountain and hill will be leveled off. It will be a walk in the park and the world will see that Yahweh and his people are back in business. It’s a new day.

Luke, on the other hand, wants to tell a different story, drawing on the same theme of liberation and return - a homecoming in a very real sense for God’s people. But it is a voice calling to them from the wilderness, and, that voice belongs to none other than the prophet John. And, while we can talk about John in terms of Elijah and the people coming out to the wilderness of the Jordan to be baptized by John, it is the wilderness itself that carries a great deal of symbolism and importance for the story that Luke wants to tell. The wilderness is the place where the original relationship was forged. Where God and Abraham, Isaac and Jacob roamed. Where Moses led the people the first time they were freed from bondage. For that reason, it was where God clearly wanted to remain – and said so – when David wanted to build a Temple, and begin the process of taming and containing this god of nomads and herdsmen. OK, so there’s some nostalgia here.

And, we go back into the wilderness now, because ultimately, those who made that 900 mile trek through the desert – the journey Isaiah and Baruch wrote about – got it wrong. They had great vision and aspiration, but still fell prey to their worst fears and inclinations. And, so begins Luke’s tale of liberation and return, with the hope that all can find the way home at last.