Certainly this text is familiar to God’s people. As we read these words from the prophet Isaiah, we also recall John the Baptist in his ministry of preparing the way of the Lord. John quotes Isaiah again in the gospel according to Luke, but with a slightly different nuance. Speaking of John the Baptist, Luke writes:
…he went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. As it is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet, The voice of one crying in the wilderness: “Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.” Luke 3:3-4
It’s amazing the difference punctuation makes.
One would think that after hearing this text so many times, there would be little question as to what it means. Isaiah and John were in the wilderness proclaiming God’s prophecy, right? Yet when we consider the words of Luke, we city dwellers must often wonder, if the voice is one in the wilderness, how are we townsfolk supposed to hear it? Our lives are so noisy.
Perhaps we could escape the hustle and bustle of the urban way of life and embark on a trip into a more rural setting. Surely being in a place of peace and quiet would be more conducive to hearing such a voice. Sometimes being in such a place opens our ears to sounds that would otherwise go unnoticed. So does that mean that people who live in the country are more apt to hear the voice of one crying in the wilderness? If we don’t go to the wilderness will we miss it? Where is this wilderness any way?
Actually, John appears to be talking about another sort of wilderness. The wilderness is not always a place of wide open spaces or unpopulated territory; it is also a place of uncertainty, turmoil and indecision. Living in today’s world of self centeredness, instant gratification, consumerism, and materialism, we are in competition with virtually everyone and everything around us. So in a sense, our very lives are lived in the wilderness.
In Luke, John is described as a “voice crying in the wilderness.” Yet a comparison of Luke’s quotation of Isaiah with those written in the book of Isaiah gives us another insight. Isaiah 40:3 says: A voice cries out, “In the wilderness, prepare the way of the Lord; make straight in the desert a highway for our God.”
Isaiah seems to be telling us that not only are we to prepare the way of the Lord; we are to do it in the wilderness, in our wilderness. We need to prepare our lives for the Lord. We are to take steps to simplify our lives of disorder and focus our attention away from worldly distractions. How do we do this?
We can accomplish this by adopting daily prayer rituals, or finding time for spiritual reading. We can be intentional about reading from Scripture every day, or setting aside time each day for reflection on God’s activity in our lives.
A voice is crying in the wilderness, and we are wilderness people. As we are intentional about ordering our lives; lives centered on Christ, we become not only wilderness people, but also disciples willing and able to share our faith with others. Preparing the way means entering not only our personal wilderness, but also the wilderness of others.