Today, we heard from Isaiah 40 and the appropriation of it by John the Baptizer.
It's a mixed message to my eye. Prepare the way of the LORD, to which we might reply "Yes, come, Lord Jesus." Then there is all this talk of people being grass, withering away in a day.
Well, the Bible isn't the book if you want soft-pedaled encouragement.
Yet, Isaiah 40 starts with the words, "Comfort, O comfort my people." I tend to latch onto those words, some of my favorite in all scripture. The hard stuff was hard (even double than you deserved!) but now God calls to us, tenderly.
Isaiah was talking about the end of exile. John used the same words to talk about the coming of Jesus. Long waiting was over, both proclaimed.
Both were proclaiming the end of the wait to the latest generation of waiters. A lot of grass had withered away in the waiting.
I tend to be in the group of people who, while waiting, call out with the psalmist, "How long?"
We wait on the coming of the Lord, for the word of comfort, for the release even as we feel the withering coming on in our bones. Yes, we wait.
But with John, we also prepare. We smooth out some rough spots, make a road easier to travel. In reading the Isaiah passage today, I realized the English translation doesn't really make it clear if the "way of the LORD" is for the LORD's traveling or for our traveling. Perhaps it's clearer in the Hebrew, but I'm pretty sure we're always expecting that it's a road for God's approach. Tonight, I'm wondering if it's preparation for weary travelers to have easier access to the "glory of the LORD."
In this way, it seems to me, we are all, with John, forerunners for a meeting with God.
Those of us who are followers of Jesus, who claim some encounter with the Good News, are likewise called to lead, I think. Or that's what's on my mind tonight. In what ways do I serve God by making a rough patch smoother? In what ways do I go before Jesus (can a follower of Jesus go before Jesus? ah, language and its tensions!) and prepare the way for a weary traveler to meet my Lord?
Perhaps this is not something we can know. This morning we also heard these words from 2 Peter: " . . . that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like one day." Waiting and fulfillment are not on our schedule, but the promise is there and anyway keep about the work of preparing a way for a meeting between God and people we may never know.
Comfort is not out of reach.