3 A voice of one calling in the wilderness prepare
the way for the Lord;
make straight in the desert
a highway for our God.
4 Every valley shall be raised up,
every mountain and hill made low;
the rough ground shall become level,
the rugged places a plain.
5 And the glory of the Lord will be revealed,
and all people will see it together.For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.” (Isaiah 40:3-5)
These are certainly some familiar verses that are often read at this Christmas season. Some of us may even sing these words in a cantata, or in a performance of Handel's Messiah. I'd like for us to explore these a little more deeply, as we draw closer to the day that we celebrate Christ's birth.
The prophet Isaiah is telling of a voice; he is telling of a yet-to-be-heard messenger. And that messenger is telling us of the coming of the Lord. Isaiah prophecied during the reigns of several of the kings of Judah -- during this era the nation was divided into two states: Israel and Judah.
Now that we've established a little background, let's look at the passage.
Where is the voice heard? In the desert.
In a literal sense, the people of the Hebrew nations were quite familiar with desert areas. Their countries were pretty much surrounded by deserts and wilderness areas -- harsh, unforgiving land.
In a figurative sense, the Bible often uses the term "desert" to refer to some aspect of the wilderness, and the effect that it has on people. The children of Israel wandered in the desert for forty years, and Jesus went into the desert and was tempted by Satan.
The wilderness can be a terrifying and lonely place.It is a barren and dry land, where water is hard to find. It is a silent, lonely place, and it's desolate; sometimes that desolation was used by the prophets to illustrate the effects of the people's sins on their relationship with God.
There are "desert" times in our lives but that voice calls to us wherever we are -- even in the desert. We may feel like we are living in a desert: a spiritually barren wilderness. Our souls may be dry and parched, in need of that living water from Christ. We may find ourselves living routinely without taking any significant time for prayer and fellowship with the Father -- perhaps months or even a year has gone by since we've really prayed or studied the Word. We are certainly in the desert.
Some of us may feel like we are in a desert, all alone -- that we are wandering around, trying to find our way home. This desert can be a frightening place; and where is God? The climate in our desert life is extreme . . . intense heat and stress by day, and bone-chilling solitude at night.
Maybe we are dealing with a heart that is a place of desolation. Our sin may have destroyed any signs of our spiritual life. We may even feel drained and numb. Like we are in the desert.
Or perhaps we feel we are living in a world that is threatening and sometimes terrifying. We live the best we can for Jesus, but the world around us seems so barren. We live and work in the midst of a desert, and signs of spiritual life are so hard to find . . .
But still the voice cries out, even today. To me. To you. To the hurting world.
In the desert, the wilderness --- where the climate is dry and cold. Where we are tired, and we feel we've been abandoned. Where we feel lost in our discouragement and solitude. The voice cries out -- and we're startled and surprised by it.
It reminds us of God's unfailing love toward us -- He wants to take (or re-take) residence in our lives!
I hope you'll come back tomorrow as we continue to explore these verses. There is so much here for us!