Sunday, December 11, 2016

Advent 2016: Christmas in the Desert

Does anyone need a word of encouragement? I know some of you do, we ALL do at times. As I reflect upon our family here at Glenwood over the past year, some of you lost your job this year. It’s one thing when you hear the jobs number on the news. It’s quite another thing altogether when you are part of that statistic. Being without a job can make you feel helpless, inadequate, or even guilty. If you have been there this year, or, if you are there right now, you could probably use some encouragement. Some of you have had to organize a funeral this year. Some of you have said good-bye to parents. Others to spouses. If you have been there this year, or, if you are there right now, you could probably use some encouragement.

There is also the kind of grieving that comes from having to say good-bye to the way things used to be. We are all a bit nostalgic from time to time. We long for the days of our childhood, when things were simpler, more organized, more familiar. And as each year passes it seems like the world we love, have become accustomed to, it changes so rapidly. New laws are passed; new court rulings are handed down; new social norms are established. I think there is a certain level of grieving that comes simply because of the passing of time. And if you’ve felt that recently, you could probably use some encouragement.

The Bible has a name for times like this: A “Wilderness Experience.” The people of Israel had their wilderness experience for 40 years as they wandered between slavery in Egypt and freedom in the Promised Land. Elijah had his wilderness experience for 40 days after he experienced his great victory at Mt. Carmel. John the Baptist had a wilderness experience, even Jesus had a wilderness experience. “Wilderness” in the Bible is more than a place; it is a metaphor. It describes those moments in our lives when we feel far from God. To carry the metaphor even further, those moments of spiritual dryness in our lives. Like a person wandering in a hot desert, we, too, long to have our thirsts quenched and to be renewed by God. And some of us definitely feel that need to be quenched and renewed by God.

If you feel that need this morning, hear these encouraging words from God:

READ ISAIAH 35

Yes, life is a wilderness sometimes. But God reminds us here, with the words of Isaiah, that one day a stream will come up in our desert. One day, a highway will emerge right in the middle of the wilderness that leads straight to God. Our grief will turn to joy, and our mourning will turn to laughter. And so, we, the followers of Christ, wait with eager anticipation for that day. Until that day when things are finally set right, we have been given proof that God will do what He said He would do. That proof comes to us in the Christmas story. God saw our wilderness experience, and God did not grieve our situation from afar. God came here to deal with it! And every now and then, we catch glimpses of what God did for us.

I don’t know how many of you saw the news report from three years ago. 37-year-old Darnell Barton, a bus driver in Buffalo New York provided us a concrete illustration of what God did for us by sending Jesus. Watch this news report:


In so many ways, this young woman on the bridge represents us. This life often times brings us to the point of death. But Christmas reminds us God saw us in our desperation and came to help.

One of my favorite movies from the past few years was Saving Mr. Banks. The movie tells the story of Pamela Travers, the author of Mary Poppins. Due to the success of her children's books, Walt Disney and his team try to convince Travers to turn her book and her characters into a film. Travers is reluctant throughout the entire creative process and she eventually shuts down emotionally and returns to London. She was not going to allow Disney to continue making the film because Travers's characters are not simply characters to her; they are family. In fact, we learn through flashbacks that Mr. Banks is modeled somewhat after her own very flawed father and Mary in the story is modeled after her aunt. In a powerful scene at the end of the movie, Walt Disney comes to Travers's house in England to talk with her about the film. After sharing about his own painful childhood, Disney delivers this profound monologue to Travers:
Give Mary Poppins to me, Ms. Travers. Trust me with your precious Mary Poppins. I won't disappoint you. I swear that every time a person goes into a movie house … they will see George Banks being saved. They will love him and his kids, they will weep for his cares, and wring their hands when he loses his job. And when he flies that kite, oh! They will rejoice, they will sing.
In every movie house, all over the world, in the eyes and the hearts of my kids … George Banks will be honored … Maybe not in life, but in imagination. Because that's what we storytellers do. We restore order with imagination. We instill hope again and again and again. Trust me, Ms. Travers. Let me prove it to you. I give you my word.
The story of Christmas, is a true story. Every time it is told it instills hope again and again and again. My prayer is that if you need hope this season that you will find it in the story of Jesus’ birth. And I pray that you will be on the lookout for folks who need hope. And when you find them, I pray you will tell them this story of Jesus. In doing so, you will bring hope to the hopeless and you will allow springs to spring up in the wilderness.

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