We in the church often talk about Advent as a time of preparation. And for most of us the kind of preparation we do tends to be preparing for the celebration of Christmas. Buying gifts, decorating, cleaning the house, wrapping gifts, baking cookies, making presents, writing cards. We are engaged in all sorts of busyness. But is this all the preparation we need to make?
In Sunday’s first reading from Isaiah – we have a familiar text that thanks to Handel we can almost sing. But it speaks of preparation. Instructing to “prepare in the desert A HIGHWAY FOR OUR God.” Spoken in a time of simple hand tools, rather than bulldozers and graders, this represented unimaginable amounts of work and toil to achieve. Flattening hills and filling valleys in the wilderness to prepare for God. Preparing is very hard work – hard and necessary labor.
This raises a question for us. What is the wilderness we are in? If we are to preparer for God’s entry into our lives we have to know where we are and what we need to do. So what is your wilderness, your desert place? And what hard work do you need to do there?
Is the dry and desolate place in our life personal, emotional, spiritual? What is needed to allow God to enter this area? Do we need time for quiet and rest? Or do we need to be active and pursue a spiritual discipline that will fill in the valley of ignorance or lethargy? Do we need to reach out to others in significant ways to get beyond the prison of our needs, wants and self-concern?
The prophet then tells the people to “Go up to a high mountain, lift up your voice” and declare God’s presence. This is very active, not passive waiting… we are to put something into it. Something that has the capacity to change us and change the lives of others.
In the reading from the 2nd letter of Peter the author speaks directly to this active waiting. He asks “What sort of person ought you to be as you wait for the coming of God? What ought we to be and to be doing as we wait? The author of the epistle tells his hearers that they (and we) should live in the unrighteous world as if we are citizens of the righteous one. Thus to make it real by living into the world we want to have by behaving in the way we want that world to be. We are to strive to be found at peace and doing righteousness here and now – whether anyone is watching or not. Whether anyone appreciates it or not
We have as the Gospel the very beginning of Mark’s Gospel. There we find the words of Isaiah. The story of Jesus as the Son of God marks tells us begins long before Jesus. Mark’s telling of the Xian story begins with a sense of the longing for God. Then we are quickly introduced to John the baptizer and his message. John begins the process of preparation for the Messiah in the midst of waiting for the fulfillment of God’s promises..
The reality is that we as humans have a longing for God, but all too often we substitute other things. We try to fill that God shaped hole in our lives with unsatisfactory substitutes as we wait. For Imelda Marcos it was fashionable shoes –
for others it is the accumulation of wealth,
for some it is alcohol, or drugs, or food,
for others power,
for many it is the latest and greatest electronics.
But time after time we find that it doesn’t really work. It doesn’t usually dull the longing very much or for very long. It only distracts us for a short time.
The baptizer’s sense of active waiting and preparation is to look at ourselves honestly. He tells those who listen to turn to God and to God’s ways. To do that we have to recognize where we are where in our life;
Recognize those places in our life where we are in the wilderness; where we are heading away from God rather than towards God.
John the Baptizer knows that he is not the final answer – John simply points the direction – and says wait until the one who is greater than I come who is able to do more – but in the meanwhile as your wait do what you can do – prepare….
Preparation is also a means of looking beyond ourselves, to recognize and to actively tell others our experience of God who breaks into our world. It commissions us to tell others of our God who can break into the world through us and through them. A God who uses our hands, feet, and voice to proclaim God’s presence and good news. This God, whom Jesus reveals, uses frail humanity to build God’s vision of a world of righteousness and peace by acting it out in the middle of strife, uncertainty and warped values. We are to be the heralds of this good news in our age.
God who surrounds us with love and life uses prophets like Isaiah and John the Baptizer to call us to prepare in the desert and wilderness of our life to create a highway for God to enter and transform our life and through us to transform the lives of others.
So what is the wilderness YOU are in?
How will you prepare the highway for God to enter?
When will you lift up your voice, and declare God’s presence in your life; knowing that through you and me and all the rest of God’s people we can unleash the spiritual power to transform the world.
PREPARE… make straight in the wilderness…. Lift up your voice… one is coming who is mightier than I and he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.