We Are the Preparers


The Second Sunday in Advent
The Rev. Austin K. Rios
St. Paul’s Within the Walls
December 06, 2015

Sun-bleached rocks stretching for miles and miles in every direction.

A squat green succulent, gripping the desert floor and praying for rain to trickle down from above and fill the arroyo with enough living water to reach its roots.

The hard verticals of the Chisos mountains, dominating the center of a vast expanse of harsh, unpopulated land…forever gazing silently upon the waves of mountains that radiate out toward Mexico.

For the longest time, my most vivid images of the wilderness came from the stark landscape of Big Bend National Park, defined by the great curve in the Rio Grande river that runs between Mexico and Texas.

And in many ways, when I visited the Judean wilderness in the Holy Land this year, and looked upon those rocky pleats of mountains stretching from Jericho up to Jerusalem, I could see the topographical and evocative relationship those two wildernesses share.

Desert wilderness is by its nature, harsh, unforgiving, and devoid of the comforts that make life thrive in lusher localities.

It is normally an area to be “passed through” rather than a place in which sane people choose to dwell.

It is wild, untamed, raw.

The concept of wilderness occupies a great deal of space in the history of faith.

From the beginning of creation, the safety and abundance of the garden of Eden contrasts with the wild lands that lie East beyond the angels who wield the flaming sword.

Once the Israelites are liberated from Pharaoh’s yoke, the people of God must pass through the wilderness…wandering for forty years on their way to the promised land.

And John the Baptist, the prophet who saw himself preparing the way for the Lord, received the word of God, that animated and defined his ministry, while in the wilderness.

Being in a place of stillness in the midst of unmitigated nature can move us in unprecedented ways.

God speaks in special tongues when the rhythm of our lives slow down and sync to the rhythms of the natural world.

We can hear new things in the wilderness, and be spurred to action as a result.

But for some reason, this week, I started thinking about a whole other kind of wilderness.

As I watched the endless stream of tourists parading up and down Via Nazionale…and heard the constant thunder of busses rumbling while horns sounded their high-pitched complaints…I thought about the wilderness of the world in which we live.

If desert wilderness is harsh, unforgiving, and devoid of the comforts that make life thrive in lusher localities, then certainly our world is some kind of desert wilderness as well.

Gun violence, that seems to replicate like a superstring virus, fills our news feeds with stories of tragedy and loss.

War is just a shot, or a bomb away…and it feels like the line between life and death, friend and foe, and right and wrong blurs more and more every day.

In comparison to the lives of the powerful who run multinational corporations and the elite few who govern and guide the course of nations, we can feel quite powerless and small…like a lone soul wandering a vast wasteland who, seeing the sheer face of the mountain ahead, knows that scaling it is nearly impossible.

And yet it is exactly into the midst of this “wilderness” that the word of God comes.

Into the wilderness of the political world, where Emperor Tiberias, Pontius Pilate, Herod, Philip and Lysanias pretend and seem to be the ultimate authorities.

Into the heart of the religious wilderness, where Caiaphas and Annas have abandoned the principles and passion of the faith in order to amass more power and prestige.

John, the son of Zechariah, receives the word of God in this context and that word causes him to cry out.

He cries out to others who find themselves lost in such a wilderness… There is something more!

There is something greater than the Emperor, something beyond the machinations of Caiaphas, something that tastes of real life and God’s kingdom on the other side of this wilderness in which we now wander.

John cries out, like the great string of prophets before him, for those with ears to hear to follow him through the waters of repentance to a promised land that is not bound by geography or geopolitical borders.

The voice of one crying out in the wilderness.

Each of us are called to both hear that voice, and to be that voice in this world brothers and sisters.

We are called, especially during this season of Advent, to be the preparers… for the Lord that is coming into the world once more.

To make his paths straight, so that all flesh will see the salvation of God.

All flesh!

I don’t know about you, but this wilderness world is indeed harsh, unforgiving, and can feel soooo devoid of the comforts that make life thrive.

Instead of justice and compassion, deceit and domination rule the public square.

We are the preparers of a different way.

Instead of healing for the nations, this world offers the cold unsatisfying gruel of division.

We are the preparers of a different way.

Instead of the promise of a land that is both yours and mine, hers and his… and can be passed on to the seventh generation that will succeed us, this world prizes aimless wandering, and the constant back and forth of partisan politics and policies.


We are the preparers of a different way.

I beg you to cry out in the wilderness this week dear people of God!

Tell the world that the way it is, is not the way it has to be.

Show forth that different way by the manner in which you live, the way you treat those far off and those near, and in doing so, you will prepare the way for the Lord of all to both change your life and the lives of others.

Acknowledge this Advent that it is God’s word, not the Emperor’s nor the High Priest’s, that shapes the world from a bleak, harsh wilderness into a place of gardens…a place flowing with milk and honey…into a city with the river of the water of life flowing through it, and the tree of life planted in its center providing healing and the most satisfying of fruits to the nations.

Our world needs to hear that voice now more than ever.

Will you let it be yours?

Will you help prepare the way of the Lord so that all flesh will see the salvation of God?

The wilderness awaits, and so does the word of God.

That Word waits to be born once more.

In you, in me, and in every heart that makes room for it.

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