A reading from the book of the Prophet Isaiah (40:1-11)
Comfort, O comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem and cry to her that she has served her term, that her penalty is paid, that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins. A voice cries out: “In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain. Then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all people shall see it together, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.” A voice says, “Cry out!” And I said, “What shall I cry?” All people are grass, their constancy is like the flower of the field. The grass withers, the flower fades, when the breath of the Lord blows upon it; surely the people are grass. The grass withers, the flower fades; but the word of our God will stand for ever. Get you up to a high mountain, O Zion, herald of good tidings; lift up your voice with strength, O Jerusalem, herald of good tidings, lift it up, do not fear; say to the cities of Judah, “Here is your God!” See, the Lord God comes with might, and his arm rules for him; his reward is with him, and his recompense before him. He will feed his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms, and carry them in his bosom, and gently lead the mother sheep.
This year, during the season of Advent, Monday Matters will focus on readings from the prophet Isaiah, who provides great material for reflection in anticipation of Christmas.
A favored, savored New Yorker cartoon depicts a woman in business attire, a tiny, lone figure out in the wild, in the middle of nowhere. The title: A Voice Crying in the Wilderness, the caption: “Get me the hell out of the wilderness.” We all know something about wilderness. For many, it’s a place from which we’d like to escape.
The Advent season takes us to the wilderness, as noted in the reading from the prophet Isaiah, which you may have heard in church yesterday. Wilderness imagery shows up in a number of places in the Bible. Moses spent 40 years in the wilderness watching sheep before he heard the call from the talking burning bush. The children of Israel wandered for 40 years in the wilderness after their deliverance from Egyptian oppression. Elijah made his way to the wilderness when he thought the world was out to get him. The children of Israel living in exile knew that if they were to find their way home, it would mean traveling through wilderness. John the Baptist chose to offer his ministry in the wilderness. Jesus began his public ministry with a time of testing in such a place. Throughout the history of the church, people of faith have found themselves in the wilderness, by choice or not,
The wilderness is undoubtedly a place of challenge, where we are tested. It can be a place where comforts are stripped away. It can be a place of loneliness. For many in scripture, the wilderness could be a fearful place, filled with menacing beasts. For some the greatest fear was that it was tractless. No clear roadways. No clear sense of direction. No way out. No way forward. I suspect we all know something of experiences like that.
At the same time, the wilderness is a place of formation. In the meandering of the children of Israel over those forty years, apparently walking in circles, they were formed as a people. Jesus’ time in the wilderness strengthened him, equipped him for the public ministry about to be launched. Distractions removed, it can be a place where clarity increases. People of faith over the centuries have attested to the fact that the wilderness is a place where they have come to know what really matters, a place where God’s presence and power in new ways.
Reflect this morning on your own wilderness experience. Maybe you’re there now. Acknowledge that it’s a place marked by challenge. Know that people have faced the challenge before and come out on the other side.
And see what can be learned in the moment, how you might be experiencing formation. Advent as a season reminds us that we are not always going to be in the wilderness, that there will be a way prepared, with rough places plain. But it also tells us that there can be learnings as we wait. My hope and prayer in this Monday offering is that your time in the wilderness, whatever that looks like, will prove to be helpful in that way.