As we turn our focus from Thanksgiving to Christmas, many voices vie for our attention. Some of those voices come from outside. They want us to buy their product or service. They distract from the meaning of the season by playing into the materialism and consumerism of our society.
Other voices come from within. They actually tap into the significance of the season and struggle with it. Perhaps we hear a voice of sadness because the holidays remind us that someone we love is no longer with us. Perhaps it is a frustrated or despairing voice due to a strained relationship. Perhaps it is a depressed voice wondering why we don’t feel as joyful and upbeat as others appear (comparing our inside to others’ outside can be a shaky enterprise though).
Isaiah 40 offers 2 different voices to the conversation. The first voice is found in 40:3-5 (CEB):
A voice is crying out:
“Clear the LORD’s way in the desert!
Make a level highway in the wilderness for our God!
Every valley will be raised up,
and every mountain and hill
will be flattened.
Uneven ground will become level,
and rough terrain a valley plain.
The LORD’s glory will appear,
and all humanity will see it together;
the LORD’s mouth
has commanded it.”
I remember a drive out to the Texas Panhandle several years ago. I grew up in East Texas with slightly hilly terrain. But a little west of Fort Worth the earth begins to flatten. When you see the Amarillo skyline on the horizon, you’ve still got a good distance to travel. The view is completely unobstructed.
When the gospel writers reflected on the ministry of John the Baptist, this text from Isaiah leapt into their minds. Surely John was enacting this scene from the prophet. He located his ministry in the wilderness geographically. But his work of calling the people to repentance was work in the wilderness of the soul.
Receiving the gift of life in Jesus Christ requires inner work that removes the barriers that obstruct the work of the gospel in our lives. That’s what John’s ministry represented. Repentance removes barriers in the heart that obstruct the grace of God.
Advent is a season of preparation for Christmas. It is a season for us to hear an ancient voice in the midst of other voices calling us to prepare to receive Christ by repenting of our sin, thereby allowing grace to work in us obstructed.
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