The desert is abloom

RCL Year A, 3 Advent

Well, how are we doing on the Advent cheer-ometer? Is it getting a little happier and jollier in church yet? Well, maybe. Today is the day when Advent is supposed to lighten up, when we light the pink candle and let ourselves rejoice a little bit. Gaudete Sunday, it’s called – Rejoicing Sunday. We’re preparing the way for Christ’s coming, and getting closer. But three candles is still a long ways from the rejoicing and cheer going on all around us in Almaden. I think I’ve never seen so many Christmas lights up on houses as there are this year. The store parking lots are full, the parties are happening. Even here at ECA we had our Christmas party last night! Advent seems like a dim idea compared to all the blazing light around us. It’s the hap-happiest time of the year.

Meanwhile in our scriptures, John the Baptist is in prison, and he’s depressed. He’s been arrested, he will soon be executed, and the Messiah he acclaimed so readily at the River Jordan is beginning to seem – well, not like the Messiah after all. John has his doubts now. His own life is ending and this Messiah has not yet routed the Romans from Jerusalem. No light is blazing for John – no joyful expectation and hap-happiness. All seems to be lost. He prepared the way and – now what? So he sends word to Jesus: Are you really it? Maybe you’re not, and we’re still waiting for the real one? What’s going on? And Jesus replies, Go and tell John what you hear and see. No, you don’t see the Romans being conquered. No, you don’t see me on the throne of Israel. No, you don’t see everything all made right. But what you do see is this: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them. Things are happening all around you. These are signs of God in your midst. That’s the good news.

I wonder if any of you have ever felt like John the Baptist. Maybe especially now at Christmastime. We’re all so busy being cheerful and wrapping packages and lighting candles. But sometimes underneath all of that, we don’t feel so hap-happy, not really. Underneath that we might just wonder what the point of all this is. The world is not the way it should be. We’re marking the one year anniversary of the massacre at Sandy Hook elementary school, and another school has now seen a shooting in Colorado. People are suffering and dying in the Philippines after the typhoon. People in our own congregation are sick and going through hard times. And yet again, we’re celebrating Christmas, and the light that shines in the darkness. When we stop to think of it, it can all feel sort of absurd.

But Jesus says, Go and tell John what you hear and see. Tell the ones who are doubting, the ones who are caught in prison and darkness, that healing is happening, life is springing forth. The poor have good news brought to them. Hear and see, and then share what you hear and see. There’s a job to do in there.

So I’ve been thinking about what I’m hearing and seeing. Times and ways that I’ve noticed the light this Advent season. Here are a few of them:

  • In this congregation I saw so many of you turn out for our house meetings, so many of you who care about this place and our mission and were willing to sit and talk to others about that. That was good news.
  • I see people going out of their way to take care of some of those of our congregation who are suffering and in need right now, people taking time to really get in there, roll their sleeves up and be involved, and help others who need it. That’s good news.
  • Last week our family went to San Juan Bautista and saw the shepherds play, La Pastorela, a wonderful play that acts out how God’s angels fight off the devils and open the way for all of us to see the Christ child. It’s a play that always brings me to tears, because it’s such good news.
  • And on Thursday friends took us to hear the Blind Boys of Alabama sing in concert, and in one song they absolutely channeled the Holy Spirit and brought those tears again. That was good news.

There are more, but those are some of things I’ve been hearing and seeing. What about you? What good things have you heard and seen?

I’m going to have you do something I haven’t done in a while. I want you to stop and be still for a moment, and see in your mind one experience – one thing that has happened, that you have seen or heard, that has brought good news to you in these last few weeks. Something in this congregation or in the rest of your life, it doesn’t matter which. And when you have it in mind, I want you to turn to someone near you and share it, and to hear what they tell you.


Those are signs of God in our midst. Sometimes, and especially sometimes at Christmas, the desert can overwhelm us. But Isaiah prophesies about how the desert will rejoice and blossom, blooming like the crocus. There’s what we are supposed to do: to look for the blossoms – to hold them up for others to see. We prepare the way for Christ to come, we prepare the way for others to meet God, by sharing and telling the good news. So do some more of it. Go home today and tell another person, someone in your home or on your street. Go to work tomorrow and tell someone there, or to the store for your errand and tell someone there. You don’t have to say much. You don’t even have to call it God. Just share a piece of the good that is going on in us and around us. Make the desert bloom for others. Prepare the way.