The holy seer Isaiah prophecies about John Baptist and the preparation for the coming of Christ.
Isaiah summarizes the preaching of John this way: “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.”
What does this mean for you, especially in Advent? To use Isaiah’s language, you should be a wilderness prepared and a road made straight. You should be a valley lifted up and a mountain made low. Your uneven ground should become level, and your rough places smoothed out.
Or in the words of John, Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.
To do these things, you should first realize and confess that you are a wilderness and desert. Spiritually speaking, all men are desolate and dried-up, empty of spiritual life because we were conceived and born in sin. Even Christians still have this old nature in us.
Trying to hike cross-country through untamed wilderness is a very difficult experience. It is extremely slow and strenuous work. It can be very dangerous.
Or put it this way: Imagine that you are expecting important visitors to your house. But when they arrive, they find that your front yard, through which they must walk to get to your house, has become a trackless wilderness. That is an embarrassment at best. At worst they will simply skip the visit.
Christ wants to visit you. He wants to come to you and make His home with you. As Isaiah says, He wants to take His lambs in His arms. But our sinful nature is untamed wilderness. Our nature resists His approach. Our self-centered old Adam wants no visit from Christ, thank you very much. We are fine on our own, or so our old Adam thinks.
Realize this. Do not let your desert flesh convince you that you are just fine and do not need Christ. Feel your great need because you are convinced by Scripture that your need is real.
When the Spirit of Christ brings you to repentance, He is making a straight highway in the desert. He creates His own way, a well-paved road upon which He comes to us.
Christ comes to lift up the valleys. The lowly, the crushed down, the humiliated and meek; these He comes to raise up to glory. When you are weak and powerless to stand up to life’s trials, He comforts and strengthens. When you have been knocked down by the hammer of God’s law, then Christ will raise you up again.
He does this by declaring His uplifting Gospel. The Good News tells the lowly that He declares them His righteous ones. He does not see their sins and their lowliness. He calls them sons of God in the image of Christ.
As Isaiah says of Christ, “Behold, His reward is with Him.” The Son of God came to give us the reward that He would earn. He obeyed the law perfectly, but we get the prize. He was perfectly holy, and we receive eternal blessing in the new Heaven and Earth. What could be better than that?
But if we think we need no shepherd, and we think we have earned the reward ourselves, then Christ will pass us by.
So do not be a lofty mountain, proud in your own goodness. Christ will speak His Law to humble you. But listen and heed, so that He does not grow tired of reaching out in compassion to you. If we turn a deaf ear to Him long enough, He may let us go our way. Some mountains are never leveled, and some valleys think that they are majestic peaks. May we, instead, listen to our shepherd’s voice.
In us who have repented, there are still rough places, bumps and potholes and uneven ground. If you drive on a road with such things, they will give your shock absorbers a workout, at the very least. We all have parts of our lives that are not as they should be. Here I am not talking about the overall sinful nature, but the individual acts that we still do. We know better. We feel shame at things we do, but somehow we keep doing them.
Fight against them. Alone, you cannot succeed. Only with the Holy Spirit’s help can you fill in the potholes of your iniquities.
As Christ comes to you, your sins are not fitting for His presence. We should be ashamed at the presence of Christ, because we cannot completely remove the rough spots in our spiritual walk. Sometimes, the best victory is to be sorry and come to His house for forgiveness. But we keep fighting against sin, by God’s grace.
If we stop trying to smooth out the rough spots, then we may get used to them, or even love them. We may start thinking that the uneven ground is a virtue, and be proud of it. We may start thinking that our sins are not sins at all, and in this way lose repentance. May it never be so among us.
But to us who are humble, who know the shame of our sins and hunger for better, He reveals His glory. For this reason He came in a manger. His glory is that He became man to save men. His chief and crowning glory is the cross, which He has revealed publicly to the whole world. He has paid, He has earned, all for us lowly sinners. That is the glory that is revealed.
This news has been sent out into the whole world in the mouths of His heralds. They go out, like many little John the Baptists, to point to Christ. “Behold your God!” declare these men. “Fear not! Behold the Lord comes to shepherd His people. He will gather them and care for them tenderly.”
They also speak tender words of comfort, “Your iniquity is pardoned! Your warfare is ended!” This precious news of salvation is ringing out throughout this world, because the glory of the Lord is still revealing Himself.
So prepare yourselves for His coming. He will not only come on clouds of glory, He is already here. He speaks now. He comes to give out His Body and Blood. Are we ready?
We cannot be ready by being perfect. We will not be, in this life. But we struggle against sin. We acknowledge our many transgressions. We feel our great need, because without Him we are only grass of the field: here today, and gone tomorrow, doomed by the mortality that our sins deserve.
But He gives us what we do not deserve. Therefore let us hunger for His coming, because He comes to give wonderful gifts of grace to us lowly sinners. Amen.
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