LOCATION ONE (The street in front of your home)
** PICTURE Tiberius on his palace balcony out on your street**
The emperor Tiberius stands on the balcony of his Imperial palace. From his vantage point on the Palatine Hill, he can see the crown jewel of his empire; the city of Rome–the sculpted columns of its many marble temples stretch towards the azure sky. Crowded roads bustle and buzz between them. His eyes follow viaducts into the horizon. His sullen disposition is well documented; however, he does find joy in this perfect cityscape. He revels in all the luxuries, comforts and excesses first century Roman civilization can offer. After 15 years, he has learned to enjoy his power. He knows that with one single word, carried by a messenger, he can alter the course of daily life for people in his immediate sight and beyond it.
LOCATION TWO (Outside your front door)
** PICTURE Pontius Pilate, picture the 3 brothers all standing at your front door, and the blood on the door**
Thousands of miles away but under the same azure sky stands Pontius Pilate. As the newly appointed governor of Judea, he too has a palace; but its splendor is muted when set against his vivid and all too recent memories of Rome. Still, he appreciates his position in the Roman government. He respects the rules he uses to govern the people and, by which he himself is governed. To do anything else would lead to certain death.
Herod Antipas, Philip Herod and Lysanius Herod are also subjected to Roman rule. No exceptions are made for these three brothers who now preside over what used to be the Galilean territory of their father, King Herod the Great. In a way, each man is a king and is treated as such by their courts. But as kings they are feared by their people; Herod is name that has been stained with the blood of perceived enemies for decades. Order is kept at the point of a sword or on the beams of a cross.
LOCATION THREE (Inside your front door).
**PICTURE Caiaphus thinking about Annas, the temple, Rome, Tiberius on the street, Pontius Pilate on the other side of the door.**
Caiaphus knows how power structures like this work; he is in one right now. His father in law, Annas, is still controlling Jewish temple politics in Jersusalem even though he is no longer high priest. Caiaphas has the title of High Priest but the name of Annas carries influence. If order is to be kept, than this political game must be played. The integrity of the institution must be kept in tact.
Structure. Rules. Order. Authority. These were the by-products of the first century power systems governing the vast Roman Empire. From Rome to Jerusalem, power flowed—from the top down— like a mighty waterfall. Those who swam against it were destroyed by it. The rigid boundaries imposed by theses systems encompassed everyone whether they lived behind palace walls, temple walls, house walls, tent walls or city walls. Yet, despite the strength of these systems
– despite the power in Roman rule, provincial rule, royal rule and temple rule
– despite the order such meticulous organization kept,
– despite the seeming perfection of these structures and governing bodies, one powerful, world altering piece of communication manages to bypass this seemingly perfect system.
LOCATION FOUR (Your living room)
** Picture two Johns in your living room. John’s Gospel is fourth this is location four! Think of John’s Gospel and how it starts with “The WORD” imagery/language. It affects everyone in locations 1-3. Think again of John (the Baptist this time) eating locust & honey on your living room floor.**
When the Word of God comes, it doesn’t come through proper imperial channels. It isn’t heard in cities that still stand today as architectural wonders of the world. The Word of God isn’t given to an emperor, a governor, a king or even a High Priest. The Word of God comes to a man who rejects the regimented life of what some would call civilized society. The Word of God comes to a man who doesn’t wear robes of state or station but wears course camel hair clothing cinched with a leather belt. The word of God comes to a man who doesn’t hold catered dinner parties but instead eats locusts and wild honey—food he can find all alone in the desert. The Word of God comes to John the Baptist.
The Word of God, this message for all of civilization is given to someone who lives outside of it. This recluse, this hermit, this righteous rebel who rejected the world is s now being asked to help save by carrying a message to its people. They were “prepare a way for the Lord.” Not only does John tell the world to prepare that way, but, as is revealed later in the gospel story, he tells the world HOW to prepare. John tells them to be baptized as a sign of repentance–a symbolic ritual that represents a turning away from sinful living.
LOCATION FIVE (Your dining room/kitchen table)
** PICTURE John shaking his head/fist at the splendor of those rich eating at your diningroom/kitchen table, vs the poor sitting on the floor. The rich count their gold coins at your table.**
Sinful living is not a general concept to John. John equates sin specifically with social injustice. God, looking through John’s eyes, sees past the splendor of an empire, a magnificent temple and other human constructions that are monuments to human glory. God, through John’s eyes, sees a selfish greed that keeps the ruling classes wealthy and powerful while the poor suffer in powerlessness. The word of God given to John in the wilderness calls for a radical redistribution of wealth and power. Preparing for the coming of the Messiah means sharing.
LOCATION SIX (Your kitchen sink)
**PICTURE the water in the sink as the River Jordan with John standing there. The “mirror of society” is reflected in the waters of your sink! Picture the crowds gathered around your sink! Tax collectors & Roman soldiers.**
The voice in the desert becomes a mirror of society, reflecting daily injustices and holding people accountable for their actions. “Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none,” John preaches to crowds who gather on the banks of the Jordan. “And whoever has food must do likewise.” Tax collectors, a group of people despised for cheating the poor, are advised to “Collect no more than the amount prescribed for them.” Roman soldiers also ask him, what they can do to prepare for the coming of the Messiah. John tells them, “Do not extort money from anyone by threats or false accusation, and be satisfied with your wages.” To prepare is to share and to share is to prepare.
LOCATION SEVEN (Back Patio) **NOTE: The patio is is this preacher’s substitute for a hobby room**
**PICTURE your congregation on your back patio hearing this difficult message today. Picture them with their $7.10, their education, health care, etc. Picture East Indians trying to look over the backyard fence with their $1.29 in hand**
It was a difficult message for people to hear during the time of John the Baptist. It is still a difficult message for people to hear today. In that way, Roman civilization is not so different from life in Canada. In that way, Tiberius’ empire is not so different from life in the Greater Toronto Area.
On its surface, Canada is considered to be one of the best countries in the world. As a nation, we have what the U.N. considers to be high standard of living. Our average minimum wage is $7.10 while it is only $1.29 cents in India. We have public education. We have social services. We have universal health care. These programs and statistics have been celebrated by all political parties and media personalities for decades. When we hear these figures and we feel pride. Our home and native land seems just fine the way it is.
LOCATION EIGHT (Your basement)
**PICTURE one million Canadian children living below ground in your dank, dirty basement! Picture an old TV down there with the Daily Bread commercial playing repeated on it. Picture the basement sinking farther & father way from the people from our congregation upstairs on your nice patio.**
But full truth is never seen on the surface. Behind the façade of statistics is a disturbing reality. Right now, one million Canadian children are living in poverty. In the GTA alone, one of three children live below the poverty line. When set against the GTA figures of 2004, that shows an increase of 73%. These statistics put knots in our stomachs. The make us squirm in our seats. They make us feel uncomfortable. But this time of year, we can’t escape the discomfort. We see commercials on television, urging us to give to the Daily Bread Food Bank. We get letters asking us to give to the Evergreen Youth Ministry, the Scott Mission and the United Way. Each of these organizations cry out from their wilderness spaces on the margins of Toronto Society—where there is no food, no shelter, no hope and no life. In each appeal is a cry to prepare a way through the desert. Each appeal urges us to see the gap between rich and poor in this country as a valley we are called to fill in. Poverty is the mountain we are called to make low. Injustice is the crooked road that we are called to make straight. The call is heard years later in Jesus’ ministry when the rich young ruler asks what he must do to receive the kingdom of heaven; Jesus tells him to sell what he has and give the money to the poor.
LOCATION NINE (Your bedroom)
**PICTURE The LOVE of God at work in your bedroom – through John. Picture your waterbed is spraying out water, like a “rock in the desert.” Picture Jesus falling from the sky onto your bed, like manna. Picture as much as you can in your desert bedroom: prophets & rivers & flowers & the devil & God in Jesus!! They’re all there – moving and interacting with each other!**
The Word of God comes to John in the desert—in the wilderness—in the bareness of a landscape seemingly devoid of life. The lesson of preparation in that Word from God was more than a cry for repentance. It was a manifestation of Divine love. If God did not care about humanity, God would not have sent Jesus into the world as Christ, as Saviour—let alone tell the world to prepare for His coming. The love of God breathed life into dead spaces, places and situations long before John received the Word. The life giving love of God flowed as water from the rock in the desert, quenching the thirst of the children of Israel as they wandered in the wilderness. The life giving love of God fell like bread from heaven when they were starving. The life giving love of God was in the mouths of the prophets who declared that rivers would run and flowers would bloom in the desert. Year later, the life giving love of God was in Jesus when he refused to succumb the devil when he was tempted in the desert. The life giving love of God was in the loaves and fishes Jesus multiplied and used to feed the multitudes in the desert. God breathed life into the wilderness of human existence by raising Jesus from the dead so that through Him, we will have ever lasting life. God came into the wilderness, beyond the boundaries of civilized human life to teach humanity how to hope, how to love and how to live. God came into the world of John the Baptist and gave humanity and opportunity to seek justice by resisting evil.
LOCATION TEN (Your roof)
** Picture the White Gifts on top of your roof in the snow. Picture God’s love using those gifts & those who gave them to bring God’s love into the chaos of all that’s taking place in the rooms below.**
On this White Gift Sunday, our community of faith responds to the cry of the voice in the desert. We have brought our gifts of toys, food, money and prayers to share with those who are in need. Each white bag and white envelope is a radical act of preparation as await the coming of Jesus. But this type of sharing is not restricted to Advent. Each week, the volunteers who help with our food bank and community supper do their best to fill in the valleys made by poverty with the love of God. Each time we donate food or money or time or prayers to these ministries, we are sharing as God calls us to share. Each time we treat each other with respect, each time we affirm each other’s dignity, each time we refrain from hostility and seek a peaceful path, we are sharing God’s love with one another. Each time we look beyond ourselves, into the eyes of another human being and do so with out judgment, we are sharing the love of God with one another. As we share, we prepare.
LOCATION ELEVEN (The street in front of your house.)
**PICTURE the sable out in the cold street. The manger, the poverty & rejection. Picture Jesus living and ministering to those on the curb (margins) of the road. Picture Jesus death in the gutter – so God “comes to us a life and hope in the deserts of our lives.”**
On this White Gift Sunday our community of faith hears the cry from the stable as we hear the cry in the wilderness. We remember the unexpected gift we were given in Jesus–A gift wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. A gift that was rejected from the inn. We remember his humble birth and his poverty. We remember how he lived on the margins of his society, worked on the margins of society, taught on the margins of society, died on the margins of his society and rose again from the margins of society. We remember that God gave Him to us; to remind us that life can come from death, that possibility exists in impossibility, that hope and love spring eternal. God’s message of hope from the wilderness extends beyond social justice and our lives as individuals…God comes to us as life and hope in the deserts of our lives…God’s presence is the greatest gift humanity has ever been given. Thanks be to God. AMEN