In The Wilderness Prepare!
Isaiah 40/Mark 1:1-8
“It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas … Everywhere you go”
For a brief moment – late Thursday night and early Friday morning – I sort of felt like singing this song.
Something I have been told NEVER happens here.
It snowed, and it was a surprise, and one of my friends said she and her husband just drove up and down the streets near them because then they could see the snowflakes hitting the windshield.
And in the morning there was this light coating of snow, and when my husband went to the store for a couple of things, he said that everyone was in good spirits there –talking and wishing each other a Merry Christmas!
“It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas ….. Everywhere you go….”
It reminded me of preparing for Christmas when I was a little girl, and when my dad and I would go out to get the tree, and we’d drive in that snowy cold winter air like they have up north and we’d sing this song all the way to the Christmas tree lot.
Because for some reason or another, snow, a beautiful blanket of snow, said Christmas to us.
It was part of the Christmas preparations, and we expected it, but we couldn’t make it happen.
It’s beginning to look a lot like – Christmas.
Everywhere you go.
But what does “Christmas” look like?
The image that the prophet Isaiah paints is something else – not preparation for Christmas but preparation for the Kingdom of God . “Prepare the way of the Lord”, the prophet says – and it’s a huge construction project.
The valleys will be raised up and the mountains made low and the crooked places straight, because God is going to make an actual appearance.
Isaiah is speaking to people who have been in exile, who have been conquered by their enemies and sent away – people who may feel both hopeless and desperate – but also perhaps – feel the weight of their own unfaithfulness.
They had turned away from God.
But now – now they were living far away from their home and they were dislocated from the things that made their faith real to them. The temple was gone. Had God left them too?
They were like people who associated snow with Christmas – living in a land of no snow.
They were refugees looking for a place to worship – a place that looked like home.
And the prophet was saying to them – God is going to make an actual appearance. Prepare the way of the Lord.
It’s a big construction project because the people know that they need a big construction project.
They need God to come to them.
They need an actual appearance by God. And In Isaiah, God promises that they will get it.
God is coming to them. Prepare the way.
But Isaiah says something more than that. He doesn’t just say, “Prepare.” He says, “in the wilderness prepare….” And I have been wondering about this lately.
In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord.
Is this important?
What does it mean? Why prepare in the wilderness? It’s the place where the people wandered for 40 years before entering the promised land.
It’s the place where Jesus went to be tempted for 40 days. The wilderness can be beautiful but it can be barren and it is dangerous.
And it is where we are.
Aren’t we? I can’t help thinking this.
I’m seeing pictures of fires burning in Los Angeles. I hear stories of refugees with no place to go.
I remember the devastation of flooding in Houston, in the Caribbean, in Puerto Rico.
People celebrating at a concert in Las Vegas are murdered, and people worshipping at a church in Sutherland Springs.
And more and more, I hear the language of “them and us” … if we disagree with each other, we use the language of contempt. It seems like the wilderness to me.
And then there are the small and individual stories I hear about: the woman who asks me to pray for her husband, who has depression. The teenage boy dying of cancer. The woman grieving the loss of her sister.
In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord, the prophet says. Because that is where we are.
God is going to make an actual appearance – where we are, in the wilderness.
I will tell you now that one of the hard things this summer was finally moving out of our home in Minnesota.
Not because I didn’t want to move, but because – well – moving is just hard work, even when you know it’s hard, it turns out to be even harder.
And while we were moving I found out that there was a new member of the family – my great-niece was born – and I desperately wanted to meet that little baby.
But it was all moving all the time, and there wasn’t time to go and see her.
I remember one night thinking if I wasn’t so tired, I would just like to meet that little baby, but not having the energy to do anything about it, and my nephew sent a little video of her.
And you know, it wasn’t the same, it wasn’t an Actual Appearance – but it was something.
And finally, when we were back this week, they all came over to my mom’s house, they all came over for supper, and I got to meet her. Lyric is her name. Like the song.
And I got to hold her. And sing to her. “It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas… everywhere you go.”
Not because of the snow. Because of a child.
In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord, the prophet says to us.
Because that is where we are. He is coming to us there. He’s coming to bring life. He’s coming to bring peace. He’s coming to bring love.
And he says, “Repent.”
Which means a lot of things, but one thing is “turn around.”
Turn around because we are always looking in the wrong places for God, and we’re looking in the wrong places for salvation.
We’re looking inside ourselves, we’re looking at powerful people. But God is coming to us in the wilderness, God is coming to us where it’s cold, and where we are vulnerable, and where we are grieving.
God is coming to us in weakness, in a baby in a manger, in the cross where we crucified him.
God is coming to us not in power, but in weakness, not in revenge but in love.
Prepare the way of the Lord.
Turn around and open your arms, and your heart.
Turn to your neighbor, turn to the stranger.
Let it be true:
Because you see it. Because you bring it.
It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas. Everywhere you go.
Let every heart prepare him room.