So what is that quote from Isaiah anywho? Isaiah 40 is a long – song? Poem? – beautifully describing who God is, and how incomparable to humans He is. Yet He has a relationship, a covenant, with a people. His people have served their term, paid their penalty, the exile from Jerusalem will come to an end, remember we are like dust, like grass, like grasshoppers, but God is faithful, wise, mighty and if we wait, then we will be given strength and be sent home. The language is truly beautiful, much more than my description of the words. The “story” of Isaiah 40 is not very modern, it is hard for us, for me anyway. Partly we’re used to the idea of being dust and grass, these are familiar images. Partly we rebel against this idea: we have agency, we have natural and unalienable rights including the right to pursue happiness. Wait on the Lord? Need strength from the Lord? The story of Isaiah 40 is far away from us.
Let’s just zoom in to verses 3 – 5:
A voice cries out: “In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain. Then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, And all people shall see it together, For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”
The voice here is a voice of God – a voice from Heaven’s council that God has asked to speak to us, to comfort us. Words straight from God’s mouth.
Huh. John the Baptist is telling the investigators that he is a voice crying out in the wilderness – not the Messiah, not Elijah, not the prophet – a voice sent by God himself.
And his message is to “make straight the way of the Lord” – meaning, according to Isaiah 40, make a grand big smooth easy road for God himself to walk on, for God to be seen (revealed), for “the glory of the Lord.”
What might be the glory of the Lord – okay I’ll toss out a few words: hope, love, grace, comfort, peace, justice?
But I think it is clear that John the Baptist has just told the investigators that God is coming, be ready.
The investigators get really anxious – this is not a proper message to take back to their bosses. But they do not ask him a third time who he is. They’ve gone from “Who are you?” to “Who are you?” and they don’t like the answers. So they ignore all the implications from Isaiah. That God is mighty and wise and faithful and loving and cares for us like a shepherd does his sheep and most especially, they ignore that God is “breaking into the world” right there in the wilderness. They don’t listen to John, and thus they are not hearing a voice sent by God.
What if they had? What if they had said, “really, God’s voice, a message from God? Let’s stick around and see what happens.” Or what if they had raced back to Jerusalem and made the Pharisees and everyone go out to Bethany across the Jordan and be baptized? Here’s where our human agency, our will and our choices come into play – in how we respond. Do we join in making the highway in the wilderness? Do we even ask the right questions?