Prepare the way?

Does God need us to prepare the way of the Lord?

Today’s reading from Isaiah 40:1-11 is a text Christians see as pointing to the ministry John the Baptist did. God called a person to bring God’s word of comfort and challenge to all of God’s people. But this text is more than just a prediction of something that happened 600 years after it was written. It’s a passage that also tells the story of a prophet preaching to the Jewish community in Exile. The Babylonian empire had destroyed Jerusalem, burned God’s Temple, and forcibly relocated the survivors to what is now Iraq. The people felt abandoned because the war destroyed their homeland. They wondered where God was because it seemed as if God broke all of God’s promises. Their faith, identity, and sense of self are in turmoil. And that’s when God brings all of them a word of comfort and hope. At first, this new prophet wondered why they should preach at all. The people, the prophet proclaimed, are like grass and flowers – they might pay attention to God’s word when it suits them but, eventually, they will turn away. God, however, responded by reminding the prophet of who God is. The value and worth of God’s word does not depend on what people do once they hear it. Instead, God’s word matters because it comes from God. And even in our moments when we feel abandoned and all alone, God is still with us and will never let us go.

There are times in our lives when we think we can convince God to something on our behalf. We bargain with God, making promises of our own. We tell God we’ll go to church each week, hoping that we will be blessed. We promise to pray every night, and hope God will make a health crisis pass. We see a preacher on tv and send him money because he promises that God will reward us with more money than we give to him. And we sometimes act as if we can force Jesus’ return if we make some kind of political or religious event happen. But does God, the creator of the universe, need us to do that? Can we truly bargain with the one who is the past, the present, and the future all at once? Our God isn’t a God who believes in “pay-to-play” kind of realities. Our God, instead, just loves. Our God, instead, keeps God’s promises. We worship, study, pray, and live generous lives because, in Christ, we discover that is exactly who God is. Jesus knows what it’s like to feel abandoned. He knows what it’s like when people don’t believe the stories he shares. He knows what it’s like when the powerful try to shut him down, refusing to listen to his experiences. He knows what it is like to cry out to God in pain, suffering, and hope. Jesus knows what it’s like to be like us. The story of God isn’t a story where people someone convince God to be on our side. God’s story is about discovering how God is with us, no matter what. When we know Jesus, we see God more clearly. And when we live a Jesus-like life, we discover who God wants us to be.

Each week, I write a reflection on one of our scripture readings for the week. This is from Christ Lutheran Church’s Worship Bulletin for Second Sunday of Advent, 12/10/2017.