Sunday, December 10, 2017

The Wasteland: 2nd Sunday Advent 2017

Out on a hike at camp with a friend a few weeks ago, we found ourselves following along the base of a short bluff running vaguely east-to-west. We knew we needed to go north up over the bluff, but it was just a short little rise and it seemed like it wouldn’t go very far. Well, I think we found the longest shortest bluff in the Shawnee. It just didn’t end! And then it started forcing us south.

Isaiah is thinking of experiences like that, but on a bigger scale. “Prepare in the desert a way for the Lord… make straight in the wasteland a highway for our God. Every valley shall be filled; every mountain brought low.” This is God journeying - and where is it God wants to come? That’s rather an odd question, if you think about it. We call God omnipresent, because He’s God; there’s nowhere He isn’t, is there? Well, there’s one place He might not be, once He’s given us free will. He might not be in us. “Behold,” He says, “I stand at the door and knock.” That’s about as aggressive as He gets. But He wants to come into our lives into our hearts. And that’s where Isaiah’s image of the wasteland hits close to home.



Can you relate? Maybe there’s an emptiness, a void, a hollow place - some dark valley. A fear that is eating away at you, eroding an ever-deeper emptiness… will I be alone? Will I ever be happy? Am I a good enough parent? Is the money going to work? Why don’t I ever feel good enough? Maybe it’s an emptiness you can name… or maybe it’s just there, for no reason you could explain.

Maybe you’ve learned to pretend the emptiness isn’t there… or maybe you’ve tried to fill it. I don’t have to ask how that’s worked out. You can’t fill it. No matter how perfect your Instagram is. No matter how much your portfolio outperforms. You can’t fill it with more hours at work, still less with more hours of video games or binge-watching. You can’t fill it by finding people who are down for using each other by mutual consent, still less with pornography. There’s no hobby or enthusiasm that will fill it, and gains in physical fitness and beauty will never, ever be enough. You most definitely can’t fill it with alcohol.

What is your emptiness? Maybe you know already and can name it. Maybe God will zap you with the insight before this Mass is over. Or maybe you’ll have to take that question with you, for meditation and prayer.

But our wasteland isn’t only troubled by empty valleys we can’t seem to cross; our problem isn’t only what’s missing. There are other things that are all too present, taking up far too much space. So the next question is: what are your way-blockers?

Maybe you have guilt. A public humiliation or a secret hidden shame, mistakes you’ve made, promises broken, challenges failed — a guilty memory from the past or an ongoing [art of your life. Maybe you have guilt. Maybe it’s as big as a mountain.

Maybe you have resentment, bitterness, a grudge. Against someone who hurt you or hurt someone you love. Someone who let you down. They weren’t there for you. They told lies. They cared only for themselves, no matter who got hurt. Or they were so selfishly reckless they didn’t even ever notice the devastation they caused. And now whenever you want to move forward in your life, to make some progress, there that mountain is — blocking the way.

Maybe the bitterness is against God Himself. How could He let this happen? Funny thing about that: all your life you’ve known, all your life you’ve seen bad things happen to good people… and it never hurt your relationship with God, you didn’t pay all that much attention… but now it’s you. You never had much trouble believing in a God who let bad things happen to other good people, but you’ve got a big problem with a God who lets them happen to you. Well, that’s human beings for you. It’s so easy to sympathize. But all the sympathy in the world won’t budge that mountain.

Maybe it’s an addiction. Maybe it’s greed. Maybe it’s an attachment you need to let go of and can’t, or regret about a decision you can’t take back, or just some mysterious psychological wound that robs you of peace for no reason you could explain.

What are your way-blockers? Maybe you know already and can name it. Maybe God will zap you with the insight before this Mass is over. Or maybe you’ll have to take that question with you, for meditation and prayer.

Well… whatever your emptiness, whatever your way-blockers, here’s an Advent message for you: HERE COMES JESUS.

And for that message to get through, there are two things I need you to believe.

The first is that He wants to come into your life, and He wants it with a divine desire that our tiny hearts couldn’t begin to comprehend. He wants to come into your life enough to step out of Heaven and get born in a feed trough. Tortured and nailed to a Cross? Absolutely, no question. That wasteland of yours… He sees the garden that you and He can make it together. Jesus looks at your soul and He sees every single little thing that’s wrong with you and it doesn’t make a difference: behold, He stands at the door and knocks. He doesn’t tell you “why don’t you fix this place up, clean up your act, make it all pretty and perfect, and then invite me?” When Jesus sees a sinner it’s “Zaccheus, get down from there, I’m coming over.” Your wasteland is His garden.

The second thing to believe is that when Jesus comes, He comes with power. I’m not not telling you that you can pray really hard right now and all your weaknesses will be erased and all your problems solved. No one should expect that from a man who said “Come, follow me!” and then went straight to His execution. It’s easy enough to get all fired up sitting in church, and then you’re out the door a few hours and the world is still the world and your life is still your life and you’re finding out that this thing is going to take some serious, sustained commitment. He doesn’t promise it will be easy. He promises you’ll be victorious… and He promises He’ll be with you.

Here comes Jesus. Prepare His way. Make straight the path in the wasteland. Do you have deep valleys of emptiness? He can fill them: “Take and eat, take and drink… this is Me.” Do you have mountains standing in your way? Give Him a mustard seed of faith, He said, and watch them crumble.

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