Luke 3: 1-6

What year is this, you might ask, based on the reading of this scripture.  We are about to enter the second year of Joseph Biden’s presidency, when Mitchell McConnell is majority leader of the senate.  We are in the years of COVID 19 and right-wing conspiracies grasping peoples’ minds and hearts.  We are in the years of Amazon and Facebook and Exxon.  We are in the days of Franklin Graham and John Hagee and Joel Osteen and other promoters of white nationalist corruptions of Christianity.

But if that’s what you’re looking at, if that’s what you’re focusing on, you’re looking in the wrong place says the writer of Luke.  We’re tempted to attribute power and importance to established political and religious operatives. Modern versions of Tiberius.  Pilate.  Annas. Caiaphas.  But the word of God emerges far from the centers of power and attention.  The word of God shows up in the wilderness…

…and wilderness is not a place where many people want to go.  Wilderness is dangerous, unknown, unmapped, threatening.  It can feel chaotic, confusing, overwhelming.

We all know wilderness, in some way.  We each carry wildernesses within our internal landscapes, I suppose.  Places in our hearts and minds that we don’t like to visit or spend much time in.  Places that confuse us or feel unsafe.  And yet, our emotional and spiritual wholeness lies in exploring and engaging those places.  Our salvation, you might say. Lies in the wilderness. Wouldn’t it be something if we started listening for the word of God in our internal landscapes?  But that is more about next week’s sermon…

For today, attention must be paid to external landscapes.  John proclaims the word of God in a deserted and inhospitable terrain far from the centers of established power.  Away from settled, orderly, secure institutions and structures.  Subject to wild animals and desperate banditry.  Exposed to the elements.  Poorly sheltered.  And still, people sensed the presence of the Holy in his words…and came to hear.  To have their minds transformed.  To change their lives.  And to challenge the seats of supposed power.  Listening for the word of God in the wilderness changes people, the writer of Luke says.  That is still often true: what we hear and learn in wilderness experiences—in both internal and external landscapes—changes us.

The landscapes of the physical, concrete wildernesses where the word of God shows up in our lives won’t necessarily look like John the Baptizer’s, though.  We’re not likely to find ourselves finding a preacher of a new word for our lives in an arid desert.  But we know from today’s scripture, and from the whole story of Advent and Christmas, that the Holy and Mysterious word of God appears in unlikely, unexpected places…places that may seem chaotic, frightening or disorderly…

Conversations I have had with people who went to the Standing Rock camp of water defenders in opposition to the Keystone XL pipeline a few years ago, for example, found the word of God clearly speaking among those gathered there.  Among those insisting on nonviolent resistance and rooting their work in prayer and spiritual practice and forming cooperative community and honoring the planet. Though we hear little of it in mass media, that work continues in Minnesota and the Dakotas and the plains of Canada.

The mountains shall be leveled and rough places made plain.  Hear that word, take it seriously, and…

Look to unexpected places, places that my seem alien or confusing or unmapped, for those speaking a word from the Holy One.  Be alert and listen; ample testimony exists of God’s messengers speaking in prisons…in Black Lives Matter demonstrations…in homeless encampments…in public art projects…in urban agriculture projects…even in simple exchanges with people on the street…

We won’t hear about it from corporate media of any stripe

We won’t hear about it from elected officials

As Gil Scott-Heron said years ago: the revolution will not be televised.

So we must be alert and seek out today’s proclaimers of the word

They re among us:

William Barber, the African-American Disciples of Christ preacher who founded the New Poor Peoples’ Movement

Winona LaDuke, the Ojibwe writer and activist currently leading a group called Honor the Earth

Alicia Garza, a queer person who co-founded the Black Lives Matter movement

…And many others calling folks out of their comfort zones and toward the word (and the way of living) that proclaims mountains will be leveled and rough places will be made plain.  All kinds of landscapes will change to make way for God and their ways…

A guy named John Paul Lederach is among the spiritual descendants of John proclaiming a vital and life-giving word.  Lederach has dedicated his life to peacemaking and conflict resolution.  Over the decades he has written about twenty books and worked with violently conflicting parties in 25 different countries.  He currently holds positions at both Eastern Mennonite University and Notre Dame University.  A lot of his most recent work has focused on storytelling, poetry, and imagination as elements of changing violent culture.  In a haiku he says:

Don’t ask the mountain

to move, just take a pebble

each time you visit.


Landscapes change, this contemporary proclaimer of peace says.  But they may change slowly.  They change with persistent and collective work.  And each of us can carry a pebble or two.  Each of us can help prepare the way of God wherever we are, whatever mountains of injustice we happen to visit, whatever wildernesses we are in.  Just carry away a pebble at a time.



Offer kindness to those we oppose or to the strange one we meet

Clear away loyalties to power and acquisition

Spend time and energy with other communities making a way for peace among us.  Organizations working to carry away more than one pebble at a time.

Make art

And, of course, be alert.  Seek out the word that still comes from various wildernesses.  The landscape changes a pebble or two at a time.  But it changes.

And the One of peace comes.

-Rev. Ruth Moerdyk