Discovering our call in the fertile wilderness
In the wilderness, prepare the way of the Lord (Lk 3:1-6)
THE WILDERNESS AS A PLACE OF PREPARATION
The Second Sunday of the season of Advent (or, of Coming) is devoted to those prophesying and announcing the coming (reign of) God. Leading examples are the prophets like Isa 40 and Malachi 3:1-5; and particularly John the Baptist.
In the Gospel of St Luke, John the Baptist is one of the exemplars of the life of faith. We are urged to be like them. Like them, our journey of faith is a difficult journey through a ‘wilderness’. However tough our life journey may be, it is one which is guided and accompanied by God, and which eventually ends with fulfillment and joy.
The Hebrew of the text in Isaiah 40:3 says (not a futile voice crying in the wilderness, but rather this:) “A voice crying: In the wilderness PREPARE the way of the Lord…” When and where God calls or sends us, we are not alone. Neither is our work or waiting futile. Rather, God guides us, accompanies us, and provides for us on that journey. That journey may take time – even generations; yet we will see its fruit and we will be glad.
A HIGHWAY IN THE WILDERNESS — HANDEL
Handel knew how God could produce triumph through a wilderness journey. Handel’s popularity collapsed in 1728, when he was forty-three years old. For nine years, he struggled to regain his public, in vain; and then suffered a stroke.
At 52 years of age, the doctors told him he would live out his life as an invalid. So Handel’s life was in chaos, and he was deeply in debt.
At this very despairing moment in the summer of 1741 at a convent, he mysteriously recovered his ability to play; and then received an invitation to write an oratorio for a charity concert in Dublin.
On one evening, those near him saw tears streaming down the composer’s cheeks. The music on the table before him was the “Hallelujah Chorus.” He completed the entire “Messiah” on September 14, only 23 days after he began. “I think,” he said, “that God has visited me.”
In the succeeding 200 years “Messiah” has been sung everywhere. The Messiah, the music born in Handel’s time in a wilderness, and which Handel gave away, became a household word. God can produce triumph through a wilderness journey.
A HIGHWAY IN THE WILDERNESS
Like Handel or John the Baptist, any of us may feel that we have failed in our work, that our health has failed, that we are in debt, or don’t know where to go next. We may feel in a certain kind of desert.
Yet the “wilderness” in our reading (as with the “chaos” in Gen 1:2) refers to the creation. It does not signify destruction or desolation, but rather, something creative, or full of energy.
In Isaiah 40:3, “highway” means the good highway system in Babylon, which the Jews knew when they were in exile there and then. The return of the Jews from Babylon to Jerusalem would involve a trip across the desert. So through Isaiah, God calls to the people of God to prepare for the journey over a divine highway, through a creative wilderness, to return home.
A VOICE CRYING
So in Isaiah 40:3, we can see that When and where God calls or sends us, we are not alone. Neither is our work or waiting futile. Rather, God guides us, accompanies us, and provides for us on that journey. That journey may take time – perhaps immediate or very short as for John the Baptist; perhaps generations as for Isaiah and Malachi. Yet we will see the fruit of that journey with God and we will be glad.
By means of God’s highway, our personal wilderness is drawn into God’s sovereign purpose. Let us not reject the confusion and chaos of our individual wilderness, which is not destructive, but rather, a creative source of energy. Let us accept that wilderness as a gift, and explore that gift. As we pray for God’s guidance, so, through the wilderness a highway emerges, which takes us to our destiny. Amen.