Called to Cry in the Wilderness

“The voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight.’”

(Matthew 3:3)

Notwithstanding the cold air and the speed-like movement from Thanksgiving to Advent, I love this season.  I love being compelled to stop and consider the foundational reason for the hope we boldly claim during Advent.  I cherish the knowledge that together we are once again making our way to the manger, following the light that breaks into the darkness in the person of the infant child.  I especially love the music that frames this time of year.  This week, I listened as contemporary artists performed in NYC as part of the lighting of the tree in Rockefeller Center.  I find myself starting my mornings listening to the words and music of Handel’s, “Comfort Ye – Every Valley,” from The Messiah.  The words of Isaiah 40 pierces my very soul as the choir sings, “every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low: the crooked straight, and the rough places plain.”

On this second week of Advent, our lectionary text echoes those lyrics as we focus on John the Baptist and the prophesy of Isaiah some 700 years earlier, “Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.’” I must confess, the rebel in me has always been intrigued by the image of John the Baptist.  I imagine him on the banks of the Jordan River – with his camel hair attire, who like a town-crier brought a clear message inviting those who would hear into a new way of life with the waters of baptism.

But “the Baptist” was more than a town-crier of his time.  He was the voice of a prophet – a voice that spoke on behalf of God to the people of God.  His was a voice that was calling out the practices of the religious leadership of his time.  And he did so without calling attention to his ministry.  His prophetic voice and message pointed to someone greater – beyond himself.  I remember the words of a preacher more than a decade ago who said, “John was not the destination.”  And John honored that truth.  He understood that his call – his role – his ministry – was to prepare the way for the one who would follow – Jesus of Nazareth.

I believe our call today, as individual disciples and the church of Jesus Christ, is not unlike the call of the Baptist.  In a world that might consider the act of crying out as weakness, we are reminded the act of crying out is a bold proclamation as we wrestle with what it means to be faithful to the teachings of Jesus at this time and place.  The wilderness of our times is vast – ranging from the challenges of violence, injustice, poverty, isms, hunger, addictions, to so much more.  These places of wilderness are where we are called to cry out about the assumptions that we know to be not “of God” – whether in the church or in the culture.  This is not a simple call – but it is one that we take on together as a people of faith.

Because we, like John the Baptist, also exist, not to call attention to ourselves, but to point to the one whose infant cries break into the darkness.  We too are invited to cry out, calling attention to the “God with us – Emmanuel” whose redemptive power compels us into his very presence.  That is our ultimate destination.

May we faithfully minister together – so that the world will know not of what we do, but of what our God in Jesus, the Christ has done on our behalf.  Blessed second week of Advent!