Reading over sermons I have preached about John the Baptist crying in the wilderness, I came across this “cry for the wilderness” that I preached six years ago. Sadly, the wilderness has an even greater need today for prophets who are willing to cry out on its behalf! I offer my plaintiff cry here to inspire my colleagues as they prepare to prepare the way on this coming Sunday.
I didn’t know it at the time, but I actually met John the Baptist when I was fifteen years old. She didn’t look much like you’d imagine John the Baptist would look, but she had that same crazy intensity, that same focus on the fact that we’d better change our ways, we’d better repent, and start doing things differently or we’d be in real serious trouble. Lola was my friend Valerie’s mother and she simply couldn’t stop going on and on about the environment and how we were destroy the earth. At the time, I remember thinking she was a bit of a nut-case and on more than one occasion I wished she’d just shut up about it. I was just a kid, and the earth was just something I took for granted. The earth was just there to provide for our needs. I couldn’t believe how much Lola went on and on about all the stuff we humans were doing to destroy the earth. I just wished she’d leave us along to get on with things, I couldn’t abide her incessant nonsense about how we were going to destroy the planet. All her feeble little attempts to be kind to the earth, made me seriously question her sanity.
I tolerated Lola not just because she was my friend’s mother, but I didn’t really understand her until one day when the three of us were travelling together. We were coming home from church. I had only been going to church for a few months. I was trying hard to understand this whole God thing. So, I went to church a lot. My friend Valerie had persuaded me to start going to church with her and family had become like my second family as they supported me during my first attempts to explore the mysterious world into which I had begun to feel pulled. As we drove home from church, I was feeling a little glum. Try as I might, I couldn’t really understand this church thing; all that singing and praying didn’t really help me to feel closer to God. Mostly I just liked how people at church treated each other. I liked how they went out of their way to help me feel at home. Whether or not God was there, well I really wasn’t sure.
Anyway, we were driving along the road. It was a partly over-cast day on the west coast of British Columbia, just a few clouds. You could see the mountains off in the distance. We were chatting back and forth when all of a sudden Lola pulled the car over to the far side of the road, switched off the engine and got out. Valerie followed her mother out of the car, so I figured I had better do the same. Val and her mother scampered down from the road and onto the beach. When they reached the water’s edge, they stopped and just looked off into the distance. Apart from a tanker-ship making its way across the horizon, I couldn’t see much of anything. Lola had the most amazing expression on her face. She positively glowed with happiness. Valerie wore a similar expression. I must have looked somewhat puzzled because Val smiled at me and said, “Isn’t it the most beautiful thing you have ever seen?” This only confused me more. What were they looking at that had made them stop the car, scamper down the bank and stand there at the water’s edge on a cold autumn evening?
Maybe my parents were right, these religious types are a little bit weird. Happy, glowing, smiling people make me nervous. There they stood grinning from ear to ear. What were they on? And then, I saw it. For the first time in my life, I saw it. It had been there before. But I had never really seen it before. The sky was amazing. The colours were overwhelming. It almost didn’t look real. It looked like someone must have painted it that way. It was magnificent, a work of art, the most beautiful thing I have ever seen!
If you’ve never seen a late October, Pacific Coast Sunset before, you’ve missed one of the great wonders of the world. Neither Emily Carr’s paintings nor picture perfect post cards do a western sunset justice. Believe it or not, even though I had been living on the west coast for about four years, at that point I had never before really noticed just how beautiful a sunset could be. No one in my experience had ever taken the time to stop and look at one. No one had ever pointed one out to me before. I would never have dreamed of stopping a car and getting out to watch as the sun put on a show while setting. So I stood there. Overwhelmed by it all. Amazed at just how beautiful it was. Wondering just who or what could be responsible for such a spectacular thing as this. Before long my thoughts drifted to the Creator. Suddenly this God, that I had been trying so hard to fathom, was there. Right there. Not just in the magnificence of the sunset, but right there on the beach. At that moment, I was just as sure of God’s presence as I was of my own. I remember an overpowering feeling of gratitude, gratitude for God’s presence, gratitude, because for the first time in all my life I was at home. I knew that I was home. Home, not because of the place; home not because of the beauty of the sunset, but home because of God’s presence. That longing that I had always felt; that longing that I have always labelled as homesickness, that over-powering longing was gone. In that glorious moment, the presence of God, filled my longing and I was at home.
I’m sure that each of you could tell of a similar experience. So many of us have been blessed by the presence of God in creation. So many of us have had our longing for God filled by the wonder and majesty of creation. I suspect that our love of creation comes as a direct result of our relatedness to creation. For like creation and everything in creation we share a common Creator. My own love affair with creation kicked into high gear on the beach gazing at the magnificence of the setting sun and it has grown in intensity over the years. This past summer, Carol and I drove out to Vancouver and I have to say, if you want to renew your love for creation, drive across this magnificent country of ours.
You’ll find yourself absolutely besotted with creation as you fall in love all over again. By the time we reached my beloved Rocky Mountains, it was like some star-crossed lover, who simply couldn’t help herself from bubbling over with excitement. Not even the first rainy day of our trip could dampen my excitement as we drove south from Jasper toward the Columbia Ice fields. I couldn’t wait to gaze upon the grandeur of the glacier that I remembered from so many visits over the years. The rain was falling quite heavily as we pulled into the massive parking lot perfectly situated across from the ice-field. As we climbed the steps toward the viewing station, I couldn’t see much because I’d pulled my hood up over my head to protect me from the rain. When I reached the top and looked across the highway, it took my breath away, the mass of ice that was frozen in my memory, was gone.
I’m not sure if the drops of water falling down my cheeks were raindrops or teardrops, as I stood there frozen by a strange mixture of fear and sadness. In the decades that have passed since I first began to visit the ice-fields back in the 1970’s the ice has been receding at a rate of between 10 and 15 centimeters per decade. 120 centimeters may not seem like a great distance, but couple that with a decrease in the thickness of the ice and it is positively shocking to see the amount of ice that has vanished from view.
Take a look at the iceberg that I asked Andrew to hang. This photograph was taken in a place I visited long ago. It’s a place were icebergs are born. I ended up there back in the days when I was in the travel business and ended up on a cheap Air Iceland flight that was delayed for a week in Reykjavík for a week. Back then Iceland’s airline must have had only two airplanes and when one of them suffered mechanical difficulties you literally had to wait around for them to fix it. It’s one of the reasons that flights were so cheap on Air Iceland. You simply never knew how long your stopover in Iceland might be. I was trapped there for a week and during that time we decided to explore some of the most amazing geological sites that the earth has to offer. We travelled about 400 kilometers outside of Reykavik to the Jokulsarlon Lagoon; the birthplace of glaciers. It was in this strange lagoon, under an eerie twilight that lasted for the entire duration of my stay in Iceland, that I stud on the hull of a small tourist vessel, staring up at a magnificent glacier. I have no words to describe my terror.
Awe can be frightening at times. Something that big and that beautiful takes your breath away. When you know that you are only seeing a small portion of what is floating before you, you can’t help but hope that your little boat’s captain knows what he is doing as visions of the Titanic float through you mind. It was fascinating to learn about ice calving the majestic way in which icebergs are born as ginormous hunks of ice that would dwarf a skyscraper, break free from the glacier that feeds the Jokulsarlon Lagoon, giving birth to icebergs.
This fall the news that the sea ice is melting at an unprecedented rate seemed to barely register on our radar screens. Let me read to you from one of the worlds most respected newspapers, the Guardian dated Sept. 14th 2012:
“Sea ice in the Arctic has shrunk to its smallest extent ever recorded, smashing the previous record minimum and prompting warnings of accelerated climate change. Satellite images show that the rapid summer melt has reduced the area of frozen sea to less than 3.5 million square kilometres this week – less than half the area typically occupied four decades ago. Arctic sea ice cover has been shrinking since the 1970s when it averaged around 8m sq km a year, but such a dramatic collapse in ice cover in one year is highly unusual. A record low in 2007 of 4.17m sq km was broken on 27 August 2012; further melting has since amounted to more than 500,000 sq km.
Scientists predicted on Friday that the Arctic Ocean could be ice-free in summer months within 20 years, leading to possibly major climate impacts. “I am surprised. This is an indication that the Arctic sea ice cover is fundamentally changing. The trends all show less ice and thinner ice,” said Julienne Stroeve, a research scientist with the NSIDC. The shrinking of the ice cap was interpreted by environment groups as a signal of long-term global warming caused by man-made greenhouse gas emissions. A study published in July in the journal Environmental Research Letters, that compared model projections with observations, estimated that the radical decline in Arctic sea ice has been between 70-95% due to human activities.
“We are on the edge of one of the most significant moments in environmental history as sea ice heads towards a new record low. The loss of sea ice will be devastating, raising global temperatures that will impact on our ability to grow food and causing extreme weather around the world,” Sea ice experts on Friday said they were surprised by the collapse because weather conditions were not especially conducive to a major melt this year. The ice is now believed to be much thinner than it used to be and easier to melt. Arctic sea ice follows an annual cycle of melting through the warm summer months and refreezing in the winter. The sea ice plays a critical role in regulating climate, acting as a giant mirror that reflects much of the Sun’s energy, helping to cool the Earth.
David Nussbaum, chief executive of WWF-UK, said: “The disappearance of Arctic ice is the most visible warning sign of the need to tackle climate change and ensure we have a world fit to pass on to the next generation. The sheer scale of ice loss is shocking and unprecedented. This alarm call from the Arctic needs to reverberate across Whitehall and boardrooms. We can all take action to cut carbon emissions and move towards a 100% renewable economy.” Ed Davey, the UK climate and energy secretary, said: “These findings highlight the urgency for the international community to act. We understand that Arctic sea-ice decline has accelerated over recent years as global warming continues to increase Arctic temperatures at a faster rate than the global average.
Canadian scientists said this week that the record melt this year could lead to a cold winter in the UK and Europe, as the heat in the Arctic water will be released into the atmosphere this autumn, potentially affecting the all-important jet stream. While the science is still developing in this area, the Met Office said in May that the reduction in Arctic sea ice was contributing in part to the colder, drier winters the UK has been experiencing in recent years.”
Take a look at this iceberg from Jokulsarlon. It’s beautiful. It’s awesome. It is terrifying. A voice crying in the wilderness. Creation is weeping. Prophets of doom are annoying and we’d all just like them to go away. We can argue about what’s causing this. We can argue about who’s to blame and what to do. But until the whole world repents, the end is near. To repent simply means to turn around, to change course, to do things differently. Creation is weeping. This planet, this sacred gift is weeping, groaning, sobbing, and we can scarcely spare the time to notice. If we do notice, we run the risk of being overwhelmed by the magnitude and the complexity of the problem. So, we turn away afraid to look, lest we are moved to change. Prepare a way for our God! “Not today, I have places to go, people to see, things to do.” Prepare a way for our God! “O please, it’s too expensive, too difficult, too much to expect, not today, not now, maybe later.” Repent! Turn around. A voice is crying in the wilderness. Hell, the wilderness is crying. We should be weeping; our sobs should be gut-wrenching as we try to absorb the magnitude of creation’s pain.
I remember when I was a kid, there was this commercial where this native American is trying to cope with the destruction being caused by pollution, and the closing scene of the commercial you see the Native American looking out over the land and a single tear gently falls down his cheek. That image is one of the reasons I included the graphic in our bulletin that depicts an image of Jesus gazing at the planet and if you look closely you will see a tear streaming down the Jesus’ face. How many tears have you wept for creation? Why aren’t we sobbing uncontrollably? If the beauty of nature can cause us to stop in our tracks and elicit joy in us, why have we become so numb to the pain of the earth?
Today, on this the second Sunday in Advent when churches all over the earth hear the cries of the prophet John the Baptist to prepare the way of our God, I don’t want us to simply hear the cries from the wilderness as a call to repent. Yes we need to turn around. Yes repentance is called for. But this Advent, when the wilderness itself is crying, I want us to do more than heed the cries of the wild, annoying prophet, I want us to become the prophet. In response to the cries of our suffering planet, this Advent, like no other, is the time for us to become John the Baptists. We need to be annoying. We need to shout, to scream, to tear at the very heart of our neighbours, our families our friends and we need to cry repent. Turn around! We might even have to say, “the end is near!!!”
Prepare the way for our God. Become the prophet!!! Be the voice crying not just from the wilderness, but on behalf of the wilderness! Be as annoying as you need to be. Shout as loudly as you are able. Repent! I say, Repent!!!! For God’s sake, repent!