Thought for the week - 5 December
“A voice of one calling in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord.’
Doesn’t it strike you as odd? What’s the point of crying out in the wilderness? Who is going to hear? And what is the point of making straight paths there? Who is going to walk on them?
Well, it isn’t so odd as we might think. This great prophecy is from Isaiah 40:3ff, this being God's promise of a mighty prophet who would precede the coming of the Messiah, the imagery is that of a herald going before an ancient king to make his journey easier. The historian Josephus relates how Vespasian marched into Galilee, with his men going before him to prepare the way, thus:
(They) were to make the road even and straight and if it were anywhere rough and hard to be passed over, to plane it, and to cut down the woods that hindered their march, etc.
Of course, it wasn’t quite the same thing that John the Baptist would do for Christ. The preparation needed for the rising of the Sun of righteousness was a moral and spiritual improvement of the people. The conceit that physical descent from Abraham would entitle them to Messiah's blessing, the foolish notion that the Messiah would be a secular king like Solomon, the conviction that he would drive out the Romans and execute a vindictive and punitive judgment against their Gentile enemies, and the widespread hypocrisy and immorality of the people, the selfishness and hardheartedness of the rich, and the greedy gouging of the people by the concessioners in the temple itself, the gross ritualism and secularism that had buried God's true law under the priestly traditions
But there is another way of looking at it too. God has a history of working in the wilderness, working in the chaos. We are told that at the beginning of creation there was chaos and God brought order out of that chaos to bring into being the world and all it contains. We also know that Jesus spent time in the wilderness, formulating plans for his ministry. In fact, the word wilderness occurs around 300 times in the Bible. Sometimes it is a place of loss or punishment, but mostly it is a creative or redemptive place.
So, combining those themes, how should we as individuals treat the message John brings to us? Well, here I suggest three – though there are many more!
1. Perhaps you feel that all or part of your life is a bit of a wilderness at the moment. We are all of us confused sometimes about our future, our plans, our feelings. Well the good news is that God isn’t afraid to be with us in our wilderness. Rather, He is willing and able to bring order out of our particular chaos if we allow Him to clear the way.
2. What needs clearing in your life? What are your brambles, potholes or obstacles? John calls his hearers to repent. When did you last really do that? The Church offers real opportunities to do just that.
3. When did you last take time out from business and preoccupations? Jesus, like John, went deliberately into the wilderness to find it a creative place. When did you last go on a retreat, a quiet day, or even spend a time in spiritual reflection? Not necessary silence alone – many people have too much of that – but real, concerted effort to spend time with God.
Prepare Ye the Way of The Lord. How will you do that this Advent?