A voice in the wilderness
Mark 1:1-8

On Tuesday night I was watching one of those border patrol shows on TV and they showed individuals and families in Mexico who were braving the desert and the mesquite forests to attempt to sneak into the United States and a perceived better life.  Most of them were caught and many weren’t on their first attempt.  We constantly hear of the so called boat people who brave the wilderness of the stretch of sea between the north of Australia and our nearest neighbours, again searching for a perceived better life here in Australia.

Yet many of us here in Australia are also seeking a better life.  For some of us life gets too hard, especially around this time of year.  There are financial burdens that are heightened at Christmas or when the credit card bills arrive in the mail late December or early January.  Those who are estranged from husbands or wives or families have that situation accentuated when they find themselves alone at Christmas.  It’s not unusual for people in these situations to feel as though they are in it all on their own.  They feel lost and alone in a wilderness created by circumstances that are often beyond their control.  They are longing for a voice to call into their wilderness and show them the way out.

As we heard in our first reading Isaiah was offering words of comfort to God’s people who were out in the wilderness.  They were wandering, the circumstances were beyond their control, they felt as though God had abandoned them and was perhaps even punishing them because of their sins.  Does that sound familiar to you, do you find yourself thinking that God is punishing you?

God’s word for the Israelites is for you too, he wants you to hear words of comfort and support, at some point every valley will be lifted up, and every mountain and hill will be made low, the uneven ground will become level and the rough places a plain.  Then you will see the glory of the Lord revealed and rejoice.  We don’t know the day or the hour but he has promised that time will come.  Maybe not in the time frame that we want or desire, after all, with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like one day.

He wants us all to come to repentance, to turn from our selfish and blaming ways and to seek him and his will for our lives.  When God sent John the Baptist to proclaim the same message as Isaiah, God’s people were still wandering in the metaphorical wilderness.  They heard the voice of one crying out in the wilderness and they came from the whole countryside of Judea to be baptised by this apparent weirdo who dressed in camel’s hair and ate locusts and wild honey.

His message to them was still that there is one more powerful coming, one who will baptise with the Holy Spirit.  That’s the one that we are waiting for to come again.  In these next few weeks we will celebrate again the birth of that one who was to come into the world as a baby, wrapped in cloths and laying in a feed stall.  We will rejoice with the shepherds and the angels and the wise men from the east as we hear again the story of the Christ child and his birth.

But in the process we look through to the Easter message too, which is the fulfilment of the prophecies that a saviour will be born, it is in that act of ultimate sacrifice that we are made perfect in him.  That is the voice that we need to listen to in the midst of all the busyness of this festive season that drags us out into the wilderness of despair and desperation.

God is calling to you as he was calling to the Israelites in the desert and the people in the countryside of Judea, “Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.”  God’s own word is fulfilled and is still acting on the lives, minds and hearts of the whole nation and the nations of the world.  Some will hear and respond, some will battle on blindly by themselves, convinced that they will eventually find the answer to their problem in success or prominence or fame, through their own skills and abilities. 

The truth is that we achieve nothing without the help of God and in obedience to his will.  I’ve conducted a few weddings in the last few weeks.  Have you ever noticed that when two people are deeply and completely in love that they can’t take their minds or their hands off of each other?  Every waking minute is seemingly spent thinking about their beloved.  Why is it that we don’t do the same for God?  It becomes a one way relationship.  God thinks about us every minute of every day, he longs for relationship with us, his voice is calling us back from our wilderness experiences, but we remain devoted to other gods, money, possessions, recognition, human lovers and the list goes on.  God is often the last one we seek until things get difficult.

Maybe that’s because only when we find ourselves lost and seemingly alone in the wilderness that the paths are made straight and the hills laid low and we can begin to hear God’s voice over all of the other garbage that’s been getting in the way.

On the border security show on Tuesday they had a Blackhawk helicopter searching above the forest and it was difficult to see through the trees and find the people.  That’s what the things of this world become, they make it hard to see God through all of the trees.

This is Advent, a time to look forward to the coming of Christ, clear a space in this season to listen for God’s voice calling to you to return to him, to repent and give him your attention.  Join the conversation, reflect some love back his way, and rejoice with the rest of the church on earth as remember why God sent his son in the first place, to bring about YOUR salvation by calling to you in your wilderness.

Amen.