A voice cries out, “In the wilderness, prepare a way for the Lord!”
Have you ever had to clear a path?
Last March we had a blizzard around here, and I have vivid memories of clearing a 15-foot path of three-foot deep snow while the wind was still blowing it all around. It took a little while.
Last summer, I took on a room formerly known as the “throw-it-in-there” room, and cleared a path, first, to create a workspace, and then, to prepare the room to be painted and turned into a study in my home. That took overcoming my dread of the task… the constant impulse to say, “Ugh, not today. Tomorrow, maybe.”
Thousands of years ago, in the ancient Near East, it was the custom for some religions to celebrate their festivals with processions of their gods—which were, inevitably, physical representations of small-g-gods: animals, eagles, poles, trees. Armies of workers would clear paths for those processions to take place, and the small-g-gods would roll by on top of wooden carts with squeaking wheels on those newly flattened roads.
In our passage from the prophet Isaiah, the prophet is saying that the people should clear a path in the wilderness for their God—the large-G-God, the God of scripture, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the God of Covenants and the law at Mount Sinai. Make a straight highway for your God, because God is coming!
It’s hard to know exactly what the prophet meant for that day and time—whether there was an expectation of a Day of the Lord, the arrival of a Messiah, or… something else. Perhaps the prophet was viewing the return home of the exiles to their holy city as a kind of “Day of the Lord.” The sight of all those people, gone for generations, returning at last… a kind of apparition of the power of God at work, perhaps?
But I know what I believe the prophet means for you and me, for right now.
In the wilderness, prepare a way for the Lord.
What wilderness is standing in the way of God’s approach to you?
What wild weeds are growing around your heart? What fast-growing vines are encroaching on your peace of mind? What small-g-gods need to be cut away, pulled down? Perfectionism? Intolerance? Arrogance? (I’m just naming mine…) What idols of our own self-importance, that whisper we’re too busy to take the time, need to be usurped? What mountains of resentment need to be made low? What valleys of pain need to be filled with healing balm, and raised up?
In the wilderness, prepare a way for the Lord!
In which wilderness of yours do you need to prepare the way for God’s in breaking of hope, of peace at last?
Comfort, O comfort my people. The good news is this: God does not wait for our perfect readiness. God comes, whether we are perfectly prepared or not. The tending of our own particular wildernesses, and the opening of paths in our hearts, is a lifelong task, and maybe an afterlife-long one, too. God speaks tenderly to us, and feeds the flock-of-us like a shepherd, and gently leads us, whether we have reached full preparedness or not.
But God also invites us to be a part of the festival preparations, to join in the pageants and celebrations that remind us of divine love. God longs for us to remember that we are so very, very loved. And that is why, at the same time God brings us comfort, God nudges us:
In your wilderness, prepare a way for the Lord!
Thanks be to God. Amen.