By Sarah Cornwell
A Reading from the Gospel of Luke 3:1-14
1 In the fifteenth year of the reign of Emperor Tiberius, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was ruler of Galilee, and his brother Philip ruler of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias ruler of Abilene, 2during the high-priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness. 3He went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, 4as it is written in the book of the words of the prophet Isaiah,
“The voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight.
5 Every valley shall be filled,
and every mountain and hill shall be made low,
and the crooked shall be made straight,
and the rough ways made smooth;
6 and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.’”
7 John said to the crowds that came out to be baptized by him, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? 8Bear fruits worthy of repentance. Do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our ancestor’; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. 9Even now the axe is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.”
10 And the crowds asked him, “What then should we do?” 11In reply he said to them, “Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise.” 12Even tax-collectors came to be baptized, and they asked him, “Teacher, what should we do?” 13He said to them, “Collect no more than the amount prescribed for you.” 14Soldiers also asked him, “And we, what should we do?” He said to them, “Do not extort money from anyone by threats or false accusation, and be satisfied with your wages.”
Where does God seek out the one who is to prepare the way of the Lord? He finds him in the wilderness.
In today’s gospel, we are introduced to John the Baptist through the words of Isaiah: “the voice of one crying out in the wilderness.” The wilderness is a place where God’s prophets have found themselves again and again through the ages. It is a wild, barren terrain, a place where it is difficult to sustain life, forcing the dweller therein to survive on very little. Yet it is this place, this lifeless place, that God chooses as the staging area for the gathering and raising up of his Church. It is here in the wilderness, like the prophet Ezekiel before him, where John calls on a lifeless and fractured people to come together under the scorching heat of the sun and his words, to be joined together and knitted back into a body that is able to bear fruit for the Lord. In other words, God’s most celebrated prophets do not begin their missions in places of plenty amongst a united people alive in the Spirit, ready to do the will of God. No, God seeks out his servants in the barren lives, surrounded by little but dry sand and dry bones that have been picked clean by the carrion birds.
As a Church, we are a body that is fractured, diseased, and in some places decaying. Sometimes we may even feel that our limbs are being torn off and being picked clean by vultures. You may feel today that there is little hope in continuing to look for the coming of Christ and the promised new Eden when all you see around you is a vast wilderness. St. Luke tells us today: Do not be discouraged! It is here in this very wilderness where God seeks out his servants to testify to the dead that they may be made whole and alive once more, through the grace of the risen and returning Jesus Christ.
Sarah Cornwell is a laywoman, ballet teacher, and an associate of the Eastern Province of the Community of St. Mary. She and her husband have six children and they live in the Hudson Valley north of New York City.
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Today we pray for:
St. Joseph of Arimathea, Hendersonville, Tenn.
The Diocese of Birmingham (Church of England)