Luke 3 quotes Isaiah 40. Luke 3 is introducing John the Baptizer as the one who prepares the way. John is in the wilderness crying out, "Prepare the way of the Lord."
That's not what Isaiah 40 says exactly. To a discouraged, dmoralized people who believe the Lord has dumped them or forgotten them, the prophet Isaiah is the voice crying, "In the wilderness prepare the way!"
Moses asked Pharaoh to free his people so that they could go into the desert to worship. We understand that as a request for religious freedom. Actually, it would become more a time of religious instruction. Maybe Israel couldn't properly worship YHWH in Egypt because they didn't have sufficient time off or because it was prohibited. Or maybe it was because Israel could never properly know or worship or depend on YHWH so long as they depended on Momma Egypt for safety, security, identity, work and food security.
It took 40 years, two generations in the wilderness, to grow the Egypt out of the Israelites. There would be more wilderness in their lives; as in Babylon, the Herods and Rome. Not to mention Nazi Germany.
The artful (I think it says "Boogey 1", what do you think?) bit of graffiti is on the Morrison Street bridge over I-405 a block from where we do our downtwon ministry through Operation Nightwatch. Lots of people I know are afraid of downtown Portland. Really! They think it's a wilderness that they are afraid to visit because they think it's less civilized than the 'burbs. Oh, my! Portland is a dinky city, just a town, really. You can walk from end to end of downtwon Portland in a few minutes.
Take a place like Philadelphia. The ghetto section of that old city is, by itself, probably four times the size of downtown Portland. Now there's a wilderness!
We live in the 'burbs. NE 162nd Avenue, the arterial street we use to get to and from our house, is one of the highest crime areas of the city. Several weeks ago, a 12 year-old-girl left a late night party on 162nd with a bunch of other rowdy teens headed to the MAX train. On the train, a police officer spotted her and recognized that she was banned from the system because she had previously mugged a rider and stolen her purse. At the next stop, the officer attempted to escort the girl off the train. She punched him in the face. It took two officers and a bean bag shotgun to subdue her. 12 years old. Her life and home are a wilderness.
In the past month, there have been six incidents of domestic murder/suicide in the metro area. Not one has been in the wilderness of downtown Portland. All have been out in the 'burbs in really nice areas newer than where we live.
Wilderness is a state of mind, a state of turmoil, a state of estrangement, not a place.
In the wilderness, in the desert, prepare the way..."
Where else would you prepare it? We are all born into the slavery of some kind of Egypt. There is no such thing as being born in the Promised Land, and there is no route to the Promised Land that does not go through the wilderness. None. That's where we learn to trust and depend on God. That's where we learn to take the next steps and go on.
What's your wilderness? Can you name it? What needs to be smoothed? What valley needs filling? What obstacles need to be brought down? What barriers stand in your way?
"All flesh shall see the salvation of God. " That's how Luke 3:6 ends its Isaiah quote. Salvation in the biblical sense is far more than forgiveness of sins. It is God's entire process of making way, of enabling, empowering, removing barriers and obstacles from. The Hebrew root means "to make broad". That's the opposite of narrow and constricted.
John wasn't just a wacko in the wilderness hawking his Left Behind books and the latest Christian fiction DVD's or video games. He was calling us to own up to the wilderness in our hearts so that God could start applying his salvation to the wilderness of our lives, the whole shebang. John knew that "salvation" was not some distant hope or prospect or fantasy. It was already walking the earth on human feet.
John had this cousin, you see. He was more than your ordinary relative that you go hunting or four-wheelin' with. We're in the wilderness. Let the preparation begin.