Advent Midweek 2 – Isaiah 40:1-11
In the Name of Jesus, Amen.
The Voice cries out in the wilderness, prepare the way of the Lord.
These words of Isaiah are not only found here in chapter 40, they are as most of us know, proclaimed in the third chapter of Malachi, Matthew 3, Mark chapter 1, Luke 3, and the first chapter of John’s Gospel.
We’ve heard them this evening, this past Sunday and last Wednesday.
For they are the words of Advent, they call us to lift up our heads and see the coming of the Lord.
To make way for his birth, and so to remember that Christmas is coming and is coming soon.
However, beyond just the familiar sound of these words ringing out in our ears each Advent.
Beyond just the nudge that they give to us to know that December 25th is coming around the corner…
have we ever really sat down to examine these words just by themselves?
Do we ever wonder why this voice needs to cry out in the wilderness of all places?
Or why the way of the Lord needs to begin in a deserted and lifeless setting?
To be honest, when we stop to think about where these words are actually coming from, and where they command the Lord’s voice to cry out; they may, for us, lose a bit of their Christmas-y appeal.
The barren wilderness of Palestine doesn’t exactly scream out to us images of eggnog, a cozy fireplace,
or a tree packed all around with presents.
To be honest, the voice crying in the wilderness, ought to make us rather uncomfortable.
Just as the one whom Isaiah prophesies about, has a tendency, at least for us, to do the same.
John the Baptist makes us uncomfortable. And yet it is in this discomfort that you and I find the very reason for why the voice must cry and way must begin here in the wilderness of all places.
So for just a moment, let’s be uncomfortable.
John the Baptist is uncivilized. Maybe that’s why we struggle with his character.
Maybe it’s the locust diet, or the untamable hair, or his clothing consisting only of camel’s hair.
Why does John make us uncomfortable?
It’s not just the clothing; it’s not only the hair; it’s not even really the diet.
John the Baptist is uncivilized–that’s the problem.
For he doesn’t live in an air-conditioned, three-bedroom house with a white-picket fence and a two-car garage.
He doesn’t buy his clothes at Macy’s and his groceries at Harris Teeter.
John doesn’t even hold down a job. Turning his back on both city and village, John retreats to the wilderness,
the Judean wild country is his unwalled bedroom.
John’s temple is the desert, his altar the Jordan River, his vestments, animal hides.
Although he is the culmination of the OT prophets and–as Jesus said–the greatest man ever born of a woman,
John spits in the face of flattery, deeming himself unworthy even to touch the shoestrings of the Messiah with his sinful fingers.
John is everything that civilized sinners don’t want to be.
He has nothing to say about himself, and yet, thankfully, Isaiah the prophet has already spoken for him:
“I am ‘the voice of one crying in the wilderness: “Prepare the Way of the Lord.”’”
John is the forerunner, the one who goes ahead of the Messiah to announce His coming.
He is the advent man, the preacher who prepares you for Christ.
“Who are you, John?” “I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness: Prepare the Way of the Lord.”
But why in the wilderness? What’s so important about the desert?
Why not build a church in the busy city or place a pulpit on the crowded street corner?
Why must we travel out to the wilderness?
But John is unrelenting: “I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness.”
For he is the one who calls you away from that place called civilization, where we as civilized sinners have been all too easily fooled into believing a lie.
Leave that place where you are tricked into believing that your job is your life, your family is your life,
your possessions are your life.
Leave that place where the person who is “living it up” has only made pleasure into a god,
where the person who is said to have lived a “full life” leaves no room for Christ.
Where “real life” has nothing to do with salvation, but just getting by in a world obsessed with itself.
Leave that place where people think they have civilized sin, but where, in fact, sin has made them into nothing more than savages at heart.
There is part of us that is uncomfortable with John, even more than that,
there is a part of us that hates John the Baptist.
The Old Adam in us hates to be exposed and stand ashamed in the front of the mirror of the law.
For John lays bare how comfortable we’ve become with our love of money, how adept we are at blaming others for our shortcomings, how easy we are on ourselves.
John beckons you out of civilization, and into the wilderness of repentance.
To live a life of repentance is to sit at John’s feet in the desert sand.
For when you go to St. John in the desert, you find the painful stillness of being utterly alone with the law of God.
There your eyes behold with clarity the desert of your own heart,
filled only with the wild animals of your own sins.
There, in the wilderness of repentance, John cries out to you that you would confess what you see:
“I have lived as if God didn’t matter and as if I mattered most. My Lord’s name I have not honored as I should; my worship and prayers have faltered. I have not let His love have its way with me, and so my love for others has failed. There are those whom I have hurt, and those whom I failed to help. My thoughts and desires have been soiled with sin,”
The voice cries in the wilderness, in the barren desert, for it is that the only life to be found is where there is water.
He beckons you out of the civilization of sin, into the wilderness of repentance, so as to lead you ultimately to the river of life.
And once John’s got you to the water, he’s done his job.
For there, standing in the oasis of the Baptismal Font, is your Savior, Jesus Christ.
The one whom John points to and says, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.”
Our Lord is found in the water.
He locates Himself there for you.
There, your conscience which burns with the heat of sins committed, finds the soothing coolness of sins forgiven.
There, your heart, which is dried and cracked under the blazing sun of the law,
finds shade and refreshment in the shadow of the cross.
There, your mouth, which is parched from the confession of sins,
is filled with the sweet drink of the compassion of God.
Our Lord is found in the river of absolution. Come to Him. Drink of Him. Be found in his Water.
For the only true and lasting life is in the wilderness of repentance, for there alone flows the Jordan River.
Only in the water to which Christ has tied Himself is there life.
Here you truly “live it up,” here you really have the “full life,” and live the “real life” in Christ.
Here the passing things are not pursued but the eternal is found.
Here the shame of sin is removed by the name of the Forgiving One.
Here uncivilized John, places you into Christ’s keeping.
Therefore we must begin in the wilderness, for our lives are lived in the water of his name.
In the Name of Jesus, Amen.