“Crying Out in the Wilderness”
Luke 3:1-6

It was the Sunday after Christmas at St John’s United Church. Reverend Smith was looking at the nativity scene prior to packing away the figures when he noticed the baby Jesus was missing.

Immediately, Reverend Smith turned towards the manse in order to call the police. But as he was about to do so, he saw little Harry with a red wagon, and in the wagon was the figure of the little infant, Jesus.

Reverend Smith walked up to Harry and said, ‘Well, Harry, where did you get the little baby?’

Harry replied honestly, ‘I took him from the church, Reverend.’

‘And why did you take him?’

With a sheepish smile, Harry said, ‘Well, about a week before Christmas I prayed to the little Lord Jesus. I told him if he would bring me a red wagon for Christmas, I would give him a ride around the block in it.’

I love Christmas. The music, the atmosphere, spending time with people, the celebration. It’s all so powerful and yet so humbling at the same time.

Sure, there are times when it drives me absolutely crazy, and maybe I’m starting to get old because it seems to have this effect on me the more Christmases I experience.

Why does it drive me crazy? Well, shopping has a lot to do with it in some ways I guess. Goes with being a man I suppose. If we can’t find it in Futureshop or Canadian Tire, do we really need it?

How often do we see people treating Jesus like some sort of extension of Santa Clause where we just need to ask him for what we want instead of what we really need, just like little Harry did?

I talked a bit about our need to find our focus last week. What is our focus for Christmas? What lies under the tree, or what lies in the manger?

According to our televisions, radios, computers, newspapers it’s what’s under the tree.

According to our readings from Malachi and Luke this morning, it’s about what lies in the manger and what comes ultimately comes from this event.

But they don’t only draw our attention to the coming Messiah themselves, they also point to our role in the event.

Both readings speak of a coming messenger to “prepare the way” for the coming Messiah. Enter John the Baptist. The one “crying out in the wilderness.”

John the Baptist was the first to come and prepare people for the coming Messiah. The one God sent to teach and save. The one who “will make paths straight.” In other words, John got the ball rolling.

John prepared people to hear what Jesus would have to say. To do what Jesus would ask them to do. John was the one who first came and spoke out strongly about what was happening in the society he lived in.

We are the church. We are the body of believers Jesus brings together to continue his mission in the world.

John came to prepare the way. Jesus showed and taught he is the way. We are the ones who carry on his teachings and actions, continually pointing to Jesus as the way.

Think about the world John and Jesus lived in. It was a time when greed and sin were very prevalent. It was a time where people were very far from God. They didn’t listen to Him, didn’t make Him a priority in their lives.

Look at the world we live in today. Greed and sin? We’ve got plenty of that. Far from God? We’ve got whole generations with no connection to the church, so have no understanding of who God or Jesus is and what can come of a relationship with Him.

We live in a wilderness. Christmas is a time when the wilderness seems even wilder and we just don’t know what to do with ourselves.

My friend Rhonda wrote and shared the following just a few days ago:

“I hate Christmas. There. I said it.

There is no time that makes me feel more uncomfortable in my own skin than Christmas. I simply cannot justify this seemingly jolly time. We spend even though we cannot. We smile even though it hurts. We give gifts because we feel we ought to. We celebrate. We eat. We drink. We sing. We spend time with family and visit people we otherwise wouldn’t. We place phone calls to distant friends and sign our Christmas cards with “best wishes in the new year!” even though we only send these wishes once a year. I can’t justify it.

I am not a rich person. Each month, week and day is full with financial struggles for me, but I know that no matter how bad my situation may seem that I will be ok. There is no fear of living on the street. No fear of hunger and no fear of being without. My pocket may be filled with nothing but lint and holes but my life is filled with nothing but blessings, gifts and wonder. Things are tough, but I have myself and I have one Being to thank for myself. I do not have finances to share this time of year but I have my many gifts. I will sing carols and hope to brighten someone’s day, I will smile and I will lend my shoulder to cry on. Unlike financial gifts my gifts will never run out. There will always be one more chorus to sing, one more smile to share and one more story to hear. Even though it may hurt, I will smile; and even when I don’t feel like it, I will sing…

We all have countless gifts at our disposal. Each of us is blessed in one way or another — what would it be [like] if we took these gifts – all of our gifts – and gave them back to God to whom they belong? What would it be [like] if we acted as the woman at the temple and gave all the gifts we have? What if. What if all the singers sang, all the dancers danced and all the writers wrote? What if all the painters painted, if all the teachers taught and all the healers healed? What if. What if we gave all year round and not just at Christmas?

What is there about Christmas that makes all the givers come out of the closet and what is there about the rest of the year that prevents them from sharing? If we truly gave everything we have we would constantly be giving for we are constantly blessed with gifts. Perhaps what irks me most about this time of year is the hypocrisy. By giving gifts, making contact and showing our face at church we strive to give the impression that we care – that we really care; however, if we really cared would we not engage in such activities all year? It saddens me to think that so many people are capable of doing so much but fail to live to their potential.

The first advent candle was ignited last week – the candle of hope. Perhaps I should see the Christmas season as a sign of hope and look beyond the despair that I currently see. Perhaps the excessive giving we engage in should be a hopeful sign that we are capable of giving; but this is still a stretch for me. We give because we feel we ought to, often not because we want to.

I know my name is synonymous with Scrooge but I still wish the best for you this holiday season; but not just this holiday season – for the whole year through. Know that I am willing to give back what has been given to me and I hope you are encouraged to do the same. Sing. Dance. Write. Paint. Teach. Heal. Love. Hope. Pray. Do what you can, give what you can, and don’t cease.

Rhonda (aka Scrooge).” (read her entire note here)

These words came from a 24 year old woman, a very wise and insightful young woman. She’s naming the wilderness around her, and crying out in faith to make us all think about our actions, not just today and the weeks to come, but the entire year.

Yesterday morning the local clergy gathered for breakfast to reflect on our prayer service two weeks ago and ponder what happens next.

Yes, we will be having more services like the one we had at the elementary school. But we also want to engage the entire community. So we talked about where the needs are, and how can we start to address them.

The discussion was incredible as idea after idea came out of the group. Too many for us all to tackle. So we are stepping back a little bit. Entering a time for information gathering so we can discern clearly where God would like us to act.

We want to show Sydney Mines that we are churches who care for this town and want to find ways in which we can work together to meet the deepest needs in new and helpful ways.

We want to show people the church is a place where lives can be restored, that as they walk in the wilderness there is a place of hope and peace. And the churches are that place.

This is going to be an exciting year as we all come together to find ways to show Christ’s love to our neighbours as we continue to cry out in the wilderness, following the examples of John and many other prophets who have come and gone in the name of Jesus Christ. The one’s who have prepared the way of the coming of the Lord so God can do His amazing work. People just like us, committed to following Jesus Christ and sharing the gifts we have.

Let’s let Christmas giving not be contained to one month. Let’s make it an every day, all year blessing on all those we meet.