The Advent of God
Last week I quoted the prophecy from Isaiah that brought words of comfort and joy to the people of Israel at the end of a long period of exile from their homeland. The prophet was to declare that their time of suffering was over. A straight path was to be made in the desert – a sign to the people that their second exodus was over and that a way had been opened for them to return to the Promised Land.
In a real way, the people were being invited by John the Baptist to discover that a new straight path was being created – one that would not only bring them back to the Promised Land but even more importantly back to a relationship with their God unlike any they had ever known or imagined.
The people were living in the land promised to them by God to their ancestors, but they were living like foreigners in their own land because the land was occupied by the Romans. Salvation for the people could not come in the form of an exodus return from a foreign land; it needed to come from an exodus from a place of spiritual isolation to a place of peace within the person.
Over the centuries the people who heard the call of God had moved from place to place ever guided by the hand of God as God spoke to the leaders and directed the path of the people. From the modern history of the people beginning with the call of Abraham and Sarah to the events that led to the people residing in Egypt during Joseph’s time to the events that led to the release of the people from their slavery and their 40 year journey to the Promised Land and then through the exile to Babylonia and Assyria, the people had found peace restored and a new life opened to them through the hand of God in a physical movement.
But the time had come for God to move the people on a new path – one that did not depend on sacrifices of material goods and that did not involve a physical movement in space and time. This movement would fulfil the prophecy given in Micah where the sacrifices truly asked of the people would be sacrifices that anyone could make regardless of their economic or social status.
“The Lord has told you mortals what is good, and what it is that the Lord requires of you: only to act justly, to love loyalty, to walk humbly with your God.” (Micah 6:8)
While the idea that the people could ever possess the Promised Land as they had before may not have been possible in the world as it was, the idea that the people could live as the people of God was possible.
John came as the emissary of this new message from God that was to come from the one he would call the Lamb of God – God himself in human form.
John is given the task of preparing a straight path for the coming of God. And he encourages all who would listen to him to help him prepare the path of God by being baptised. Their baptism would be a sign and seal of their preparation to receive the new word from God – a word that would not just bring physical release but more significantly spiritual release.
The people had become bound by the law that was meant to free them. The law had been given to guide the people in this life so that they might experience and share what life was meant to be. But in their great concern to not offend God, they had bound themselves with interpretations and reinterpretations that had them doing mental summersaults leaving them feeling dejected and hopeless.
And while many of them continued to offer the material sacrifices required by their temple law, they despaired of ever feeling an intimate and close connection with God. The chasm between them had grown to the point where the people could not see any possibility for them to bridge the gap.
John’s invitation to baptism was to be a first step for the people as they prepared to receive the one whom John said would bring to the people an opportunity to have the relationship with God that God ever wanted to have.
No longer would God depend on prophets or priests to communicate his message. He would come himself and enter into the condition and life of the very people he had created, nurtured and led. He would come to them with a message that would give them a hope, comfort, joy and a peace that would go beyond anything they had ever known. They would come to know God in a way they had never imagined and see God in a way that would change their lives forever.
The advent of God was coming. The advent of hope for a people who had lost hope; the advent of comfort for a people who knew suffering; the advent of joy for a people who knew sorrow; the advent of peace for a people who knew conflict and oppression; the advent of love for a people who knew hatred, prejudice and persecution.
It is said that we are pilgrims on a journey through this life to a new life – a life that will be fulfilled in a new heaven and a new earth. The people of Israel and all those who would follow the new path revealed by God in Jesus would find themselves on a pilgrimage unlike any they had ever taken. The destination would not have a geographical marker that could be found on this plane, but it would be a destination that would bring a sense of wholeness to anyone who would choose to believe.
While we may struggle to understand why our pilgrimage continues here and why the final fulfilment of God’s promised return in Jesus has not come to fruition, we need not lose faith in the promises of God for wherever we are led, whatever we do or say, as we follow the way of the one who revealed himself in Jesus.
And so we may never see another physical exodus of the people of God but whenever we find ourselves in a spiritual desert we can know that a way has been made through Jesus for us to find our way to God and to a spiritual wholeness where we can live in perfect harmony and peace with God.