In Sunday’s lesson from the Gospel of Luke, John the Baptizer appears in the desert, featuring a message of repentance leading all people toward forgiveness. In doing so the eccentric prophet echoes the message of Isaiah centuries before:
‘The voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
“Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight.
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;
and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.” ’
Until last night’s events around a Christmas party in San Bernadino, it might have seemed like John was ruining the light and festive spirit of our Christmas parties. As it turns out, he was drilling deeper rather than skating over surface merriment.
In truth, our human veneer of civilization and progress is thinner than we believe. A deep struggle ever exists in this world between good and evil, grace and sin. This world is more of a wilderness than a party. And when 14 people die for no more than going to a gathering of secret Santas, we long for the way of the Lord.
We want to be able to turn somewhere. We long for an order we can depend on, where the lowly become lifted up and the haughty are brought low; where the crooked get straightened out and the rough patches of life can be made smooth. We long for a way to be cleared in our human messes to see God’s rescue plan.
“Holy God of peace, of justice, and of love: we penitently confess these things:
You called us to bear witness to your healing, your compassion, and your peace.
You called us to build a city on a hill, where the lion could lie down with the lamb.
As a world, we must freely admit that have done none of these things.
Instead we seek power and prestige; we wrap ourselves with pride for protection; for posturing or for revenge; for creed or state or family or clan. Our response to your call again echoes in the stillness of more killings. We bow our heads in grief.
O God, soothe wounded spirits, as you also drive us to amend our ways.
May your comfort energize humankind to make this world a safer, better place.
May your deep comfort rest upon the wounded, those who lament for loved ones lost, those whose bodies, minds, and spirits now face a long road of recovery.
Let your comfort rest upon the ones rushing in to protect, to bandage, or to heal, and may your power restore the souls who suffer from exposure to such trauma. Show us your way, Lord God, amid our desert wilderness of deep brokenness,
forsaking our ways of violence and death, making straight your paths of peace.
We pray in the name of the Prince of Peace, whom we expect and await. Amen.”