Reflection on This Week’s Readings


Name your wilderness. Do not read on yet. Name it now, this moment. No one else needs to describe it for you. It is your wilderness. Aches. Burns. Howls. Shadows. Echoes. Fears. Shames. Hungers. Jeers. Memories. Futures. Scars. Catastrophes. Wastes. Falls. These may comprise your wilderness.

In Judea, the wilderness is dusty, dry, rocky, and hot. The land is rugged and steep, dangerous and threatening. But it is not a hopeless place. When the wadis, where the rivers run, fill up with rainwater, the brown, broiled-crisp hillsides dress in green, and flowers emerge as if scraps of rainbows have dappled the earth. In a seemingly desolate place, grace startlingly appears.

Name your wilderness.

John the Baptist was in the wilderness. He went there with a message. It takes courage to cry out to the occupiers of the wilderness with a vision of hope. He did it with nerve, saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”

The crowds were there from all regions. It seems they came hoping for hope. Naming their wilderness, the crowds found the courage to “repent, for the kingdom of heaven [had] come near.”

“Repent”: John’s persistent refrain in the wilderness. He was “crying out,” the gospel tells us, not whimpering or gently prompting. The word repent muscles and presses, carving a new path where all the other occupiers leave drought and ruin. The river Jordan flows in the wilderness; in its current the Spirit moves, the call “Repent!” carried in its quickening flow. The message is both warning and promise. In naming your wilderness, you discover not desolation but opportunity for new life. Name your wilderness. See the grace flower and spring into abundance. The one who is coming—the embodiment of the kingdom of heaven come near to us—offers repentance and grace.



The origin of Advent as a season of fasting to prepare for baptisms at Epiphany is evident on the Second Sunday, which introduces the fiery preaching and baptismal ministry of John the Baptist. God comes, in the past in the history of Israel and the incarnation of Jesus, in the present in the word and sacrament of each Sunday, and in the future at the end of all things. The preaching of John the Baptist calls us to prepare for God—perhaps in many ways quite different from our usual preparation for Christmas.
To prepare for the coming of God in Jesus Christ, we are invited into a total reversal of life’s values, a complete change of mind, the burning up of useless chaff. God comes to inaugurate “the kingdom of heaven,” Matthew’s Jewish way to speak of the presence and power of God. We celebrate that presence of God coming today in word and sacrament.
In Advent we read Old Testament poems that are filled with images of peace, justice, and joy. The church sees in past, present, and future the presence of Jesus Christ, in whom is the realization of these perennial human hopes. Jesus fills and fulfills our human hopes.
Christ comes not only to the Jewish people, as we would know from the Scriptures, and not only to us in the church, but also to all the Gentiles, that is, to all people of the world. In Advent we prepare for this momentous arrival, which in word and sacrament fills us with the power of the Holy Spirit. God comes always as the Triune One.

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New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.


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