Christmas is Through the Desert

In a sermon entitled, “Have You Heard John Preach?” Fred Craddock describes John the Baptist’s desert preaching as both frightening and refreshing. It is frightening, Craddock says, because it is an actual “moment of truth.” There is no room for deception when encountering the truth of God made clear. And it is refreshing because, instead of hurling condemnation, John invites confession and repentance. We can finally lay down the burdens we have been carrying and ask God to remove the sin that separates us from God, others, and even ourselves.

Craddock makes the observation that the way to Bethlehem is through the desert. This last Sunday’s lectionary guided us to that wilderness. And even if you don’t follow the lectionary, chances are good John makes an appearance at some point this season, as in each of the four Gospels he calls anyone within shouting distance to prepare the way of the Lord.

But then Craddock catches himself and remarks:

“Well actually you can get to Bethlehem without going through the desert, but if you do, it won’t be Christmas.”

I have occasionally been hard on Chrismeasters in my head (you know, the Christmas-Easter only crowd). They just cannot fully get Christmas without Advent.

Yet, as I read this Craddock quote, I realized that my attendance during Advent—much less leading and preaching Advent worship—does not mean that I fully “get” Christmas either.

Have you ever made it to Christmas Eve worship, and it just don’t feel like Christmas? You’ve said all the right things, planned all the right worship elements, and preached all the right messages. But you’re just not there.

Perhaps you didn’t go through the desert.

There are a thousand ways we can arrive at Bethlehem without going through the desert. We are too busy or feeling too much pressure to actually reflect. Our relationship with our church is strained for any number of reasons, and it is keeping us from being honest. We know we are failing to make the time or effort our family needs, and so we feel guilty even when we are home. Or we don’t listen and respond to what we ourselves are preaching.

If you’re having a great Advent, and you feel totally plugged in, that is wonderful. Keep it up! But if you are feeling restless this Advent, you still have time to do something about it. And it might actually be easier than you think—still frightening, but easier.

What imagery do we tend to use for the spiritually restless? The desert. Perhaps that restlessness you are feeling is not a sign of the need to go to the desert, but it is the sign that you’re already there. You can hear the voice calling out in the wilderness, “Repent, for the kingdom of God has come near,” and “Prepare the way of the Lord!” Will you answer it?

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