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Who Is…? (Isaiah 40:1-11; Mark 1:1-8)

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Today we encounter a question infused with earth shattering changes. Land masses shifting. Mountains laid flat. Lives withering. Ground scorched. There is dismay in the wastelands. Desert wastelands. Urban wastelands. Refugee camps. ICE detention centers. Drug rehabilitation centers. Prisons. Nursing homes. People seeking hope along wilderness edges. Here we find ourselves on the shores of something new. People gathering to immerse themselves in the waters of hope. Forgiveness. Turning around. People of God, can we hear and name the voices crying out in the wilderness today?

I know, I know… this supposed to be the season of Christmas. Decking the halls. Singing about the little town of Bethlehem. Angels heard on high. Silent nights. Holy nights. Isn’t Santa Claus supposed to be coming to town? And where are the shepherds in their fields? Or, the little drummer boy? What about joy to the world?

A voice cries out. The author of the book of Mark provides us with none of the glitz, glitter, or twinkling lights found sparkling in our holiday decorations. Instead, as followers of Jesus, we find ourselves in this second week of Advent pausing to listen to the preaching of a man dressed in itchy camel’s hair, with a piece of leather around his waist, who eats—of all things—locusts and honey for dinner. This my friends, THIS is “the beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, Son of God” (Mark 1:1, NRSV). This is an edge into something new. And so, just like our biblical ancestors, we come here to worship. To immerse ourselves in preparing. Here, we sit on the edges of our chairs, waiting for God’s promise.

Yet in our current world, it seems that we are on the brink of too many edges. Frightening edges. Disturbing edges. Teetering edges:

The edge of war.

The edge of catastrophic climate change.

The edge of escalating instances of violence and hate speech.

Out on the edges of the Jordan River, as we read the opening sentences in the Good News of Mark, we don’t see the hard working shepherds on the margins tending to the sheep. In the chaos of the crowds gathering at the shore around John, the angels do not bring us messages of great joy, telling us not to be afraid. We do not hear the voice of an uneducated, teenage, pregnant woman—Mary—singing out her radical “yes” to God. In the cacophony of voices crying out in the wilderness, who is… who are… the voices that we do hear?

This week the Executive Minister of Justice & Witness Ministries for the UCC, the Rev. Traci Blackmon, posted on the UCC’s FaceBook page offering an Advent reflection. She writes that, “In this Advent season is the Call of those who prepare the way for the in-breaking of Christ. It is a Call to discomfort. A Call to clear a pathway in the wilderness. A Call to show up, even when it is easier not to… Let us evaluate our willingness to show up when we are not the ones on the line. To show up when we can avoid the discomfort. To show up because we are called to make a way in the wilderness for the coming of the Lord… Faith is believing enough to do it scared” (UCC FaceBook post 7:05 pm 12.7.2017).

These are the unruly spaces of our faith. The waiting. The preparing. Our need to show up with the expectation that God’s promised Hope and Peace will be birthed for ALL. But the waiting, the preparing, the showing up, is not easy. Nor is birthing something new. It is messy. Painful. And it can be anxiety provoking. Christine Valtners Paintner notes that “embodiment can be terribly inconvenient: flesh, blood, sweat, mucus, saliva… And yet the heart of (our) path is the belief that God became flesh… joining us in the vulnerability and mortality with which we all must wrestle.”[1]

A voice cries out.

In reality of current conversations (or lack thereof) around gun violence and mass shootings in the United States, at the Wisconsin Council of Churches annual meeting last Tuesday, Father Jonathan Grieser of Grace Episcopal Church in Madison encouraged us to “…remain true to our call to follow Jesus Christ and to share the love of Christ with the world. In a nation awash with guns, where violence seems to be the first recourse in any conflict, our faith in God must overcome whatever fear we might have, and our witness to Christ’s love must include being agents of reconciliation and models of other ways of resolving conflict and building community.”[2]

Voices cry out.

In response to sexual abuse and harassment, the hashtag #MeToo was named the Person of the Year for 2017 by Time Magazine. In the announcement, Time stated that, “The women and men who have broken their silence span all races, all income classes, all occupations and virtually all corners of the globe…They’re part of a movement that has no formal name. But now they have a voice.”[3]

Voices cry out.

This afternoon, in response to the hate, we have an opportunity to show up. A cross-generational group from Memorial UCC (including confirmation students) with gather with the wider community at a forum on “Moving Past Hate” that will be held at the Monona Terrace. The keynote speakers will be two men who are connected through the horrific attack on the Sikh Temple in Oak Creek five years ago, where six people were killed. Today the two men, one a former white supremacist, the other the son of one of the men killed at the Sikh Temple, will talk about how they “came together for (a) peaceful reconciliation.”[4]

Voices cry out.

In response to doors slammed shut, Jan and Jim Hornik are here today to talk with us about Open Doors, a local volunteer “group formed to help refugees make a home in the Madison area.”[5] Offering hospitality in a wilderness that is not hospitable.

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; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain. Then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all people shall see it together, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.’” (Isaiah 40)

These are some of the voices who are crying out in our wildernesses today, as we wait for something new to be born. On the edges, we are continuing the Jesus movement launched 2,000 years ago—the sharing of the Good News that Love overcomes fear—with faith. And hope. And visions of peace.




[1] Paintner, Christine Valters. The wisdom of the body: a contemplative journey to wholeness for women. Notre Dame: Sorin Books, 2017. 132.

[2] “Church Shootings and the peace of Christ.” Fr. Jonathan’s Blog. December 09, 2017. Accessed December 09, 2017. https://gracerector.wordpress.com/2017/12/09/church-shootings-and-the-peace-of-christ/.

[3] “TIME Person of the Year 2017: The Silence Breakers.” Time. Accessed December 09, 2017. http://time.com/time-person-of-the-year-2017-silence-breakers/.

[4] “News & Events.” We Are Many United Against Hate. Accessed December 09, 2017. https://www.united-against-hate.org/news/.

[5] “Who We Are.” Open Doors for Refugees. Accessed December 09, 2017. http://www.opendoorsforrefugees.org/who-we-are/.