Pastor Dale Lloyd - December 2, 2012 Scripture Reading: Isaiah 40:1 – 5
Isa.40:3 Listen! It’s the voice of someone shouting, “Clear the way through the wilderness for the Lord! Make a straight highway through the wasteland for our God!” (New Living Bible)
This year I will not be presenting a general theme for the Advent Series; each message will have its own particular theme. The theme I have chosen for this first message is: Christmas comes to the Wilderness.
Let me begin with a short, crisp, clear and very intentional statement: Christmas begins with a voice. And I can assure you it is not a passive voice – the voice of ‘carollers out in the snow’ as the Christmas song puts it. It is not the voice of children straining to reach those high notes in Christmas pageants. Based on a variety of translations of this Isaiah text it is: a voice calling out, a voice crying out, a voice shouting out, a voice ringing out, and a voice of thunder. This does not mean it’s a voice of panic; but it does mean it is a voice of urgency. In fact based upon the structure of the original language of the text I can tell for sure and certain the voice is filled with emotion –a voice laden with passion. I think of it as a voice pregnant with a vital announcement; a history making and history altering declaration; it is a voice absolutely bursting with vital news. And beyond that it is a voice of profound conviction and authority. So let us kick off this 2012 Advent Series with this simple, uncluttered and very beautiful truth: Christmas begins with a voice.
At the head of this service I read the angelic birth announcement, plus the birth, plus the beginning of the ministry of John the Baptist. I did so because John the Baptist was the one in whom the Isaiahprophecy was fulfilled. All four gospel writers confirm this fact. Here is John’s record of it: Jn.1: 19 This is the testimony of John, when the Jews sent to him priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, “Who are you?” And he confessed and did not deny, but confessed, “I am not the Christ.” They asked him, “What then? Are you Elijah?” And he said, “I am not.” “Are you the Prophet?” And he answered, “No.” Then they said to him, “Who are you, so that we may give an answer to those who sent us? What do you say about yourself?” He said, “I am A voice of one crying in the wilderness, ‘Makestraight the way of the Lord,’ as Isaiah the prophet said.”
Now that we have established the identity of the voice I want to return to Isaiah’s prophecy to gain an understanding of the promise of Christmas. What is the promise Christmas brings to us?
We need to understand that Isaiah’s prophecy was first addressed to the Hebrews that would be taken into Babylonian captivity as part of God’s redemptive discipline. The promise was that there would be restoration; there would be a homecoming. This tells us that God is always redemptive in His dealings with His people. Yes, He will discipline and discipline severely but that discipline is always about redemption and restoration.
The second and far more important application of this Isaiah prophecy reached forward to the Advent of Christ, meaning that the ultimate and final fulfilment of the prophecy is in Christ and Christ alone.
I opened this message with the statement that Christmas begins with a voice. I invite you to consider three questions regarding that voice: What is its source? Where does it speak? What does it speak?
If you bring Isaiah’s prophecy and the story of John the Baptist together you soon enough discover that the voice that speaks is not John. He is merely the instrument through which the voice speaks. This is not simply a technicality; it is a vital truth. If Johnwas the source of the voice then equally he may also be the source of the message the voice is speaking. No disrespect regarding John the Baptist, but I need something much more authoritative to build my faith, my hope and my life upon than just the voice and the message of a man.
Ultimately the voice speaking is God himself and the message the voice is speaking is the message of God himself. Man – both Isaiah and John – were simply the human instrumentality through which the voice and message of God were delivered. Here is the grand and glorious news: Christmas is coming to the wilderness and the guarantee is not the voice and word of a man – the guarantee is God himself.
The second question: Where did the voice speak? LK.1:80...And the child continued to grow and to become strong in spirit, and he lived in the deserts (wilderness) until the day of his public appearance to Israel.
This is about the only reference we have to John’s childhood and all it tells us is that he grew up in the wilderness. But evidently he did not only grow up in the wilderness it was also the setting of his ministry. Listen to the words of Christ recorded in Matt.11:7....Jesus began to speak to the crowds about John, “What did you go out into the wilderness to see...” In addition to this we have the testimony of John himself: “I am Avoice of one crying in the wilderness…”
On this first Sunday of Advent I have no intention of debating “wilderness theology.” What I do know – based on the scripture, church history, the biographies of Christian leaders and my own experience – is that there is a wilderness reality. And even when we are not experiencing a particular personal wilderness it still remains that culturally, ethically, socially, morally, spiritually, educationally, and in terms of governmental policy and law we are living out our faith in wilderness surroundings. In addition I do understand that some among us today are dealing with some rather heavy wilderness realities.
Here is the good news – and it is not good news based upon a feeling or some artificial religious self-effort to generate a “charismatic grin.” Weather we can muster a grin or not and regardless of where our feelings and emotions may be – this remains unaltered, unchanged:God has a voice and there is not a wilderness anywhere in this entire universe that is broad enough, deep enough, bad enough, barren enough, or dry enough that his voice cannot penetrate. God still speaks in the wilderness. Christmas comes to the wilderness with the voice of this Almighty God.
And what is this voice saying; what is its message? According to the Isaiah prophecy the Lord himself is coming to the wilderness. This story is not at all like the story of the Oz. In that story Dorothy and her pathetic companions were called upon to make a twisted and bizarre journey into a strange realm of mystery in hopes of finding the answer to their needs. God did not wait for humanity to make some magical journey into His presence.
First of all man was totally incapable of making such a journey. It was absolutely beyond him. We simply did not know how to get from our wilderness to where He was. So God came to where we are; right into our wilderness, right into our hopelessand pathetic state.
With the announcement of His coming and then with His actual arrival something incredible happens. Isaiah painted the picture: every valley is exalted, every mountain and hill is brought low, every crooked place is made straight and every rugged place is flattened into a plain. In other words when Christmas comes to wilderness that wilderness cannot resist the transforming power of the arrival of the Christ. That is the promise that is present in the voice that is crying out in your wilderness today.
Take note of the prophetic picture; ‘every valley exalted and every mountain brought low’ – what is the picture pointing to? What is the meaning of a world without valleys and mountains? Here this clearly! Here this deeply! It is a world free of inequalities; a world where everyone is understood and treated as equals. All of those silly and artificial criteria that divide us into categories of identity are swept away and the single identity that emerges and matters is the identity of the Christ of Christmas who appears in our wilderness. Suddenly all that matters is that we are in Him – we are all one in Him – and in Him no one is greater or lesser; a reality without inequalities.
And finally, Isaiah sets in two profound realities regarding this wilderness transformation. He tells us that a highway shall be there, but a highway unlike any other highway. This is the highway of God himself. Highway speaks of journey. Highway also speaks of destination. And this highway runs right through our transformed wilderness. And secondly he tells us ‘the glory of the Lord will be revealed.’ When this Christ of Christmas appeared in this wilderness the glory of God was revealed. In fact Christ was the personification of the glory of the invisible God. The prophetic picture makes it clear that the manifestation of this glory is related to the transformation of the wilderness. In other words to the extent that my personal wilderness has been transformed by the presence of Christ – to that same extent the glory of God is manifested.
Good news –incredible news, profound news this first Sunday of Advent 2012: Christmas has come to our wilderness.