Thunder in the desert! “Prepare for God’s arrival! Make the road straight and smooth, a highway fit for our God. Fill in the valleys, level off the hills, smooth out the ruts, clear out the rocks. Then God’s bright glory will shine and everyone will see it. Yes. Just as God has said." ISAIAH 40:3-5 (MSG)

As a child, I remember sitting in the hard, wooden chairs of an underwhelming auditorium, already annoyed at the prospect of an afternoon wasted watching a musical with my family at the local community college. “Godspell” began with the unassumingly simple refrain, "prepare ye the way of the Lord", first sung in a solo, accapella voice so commanding it shot across the room like an unexpected firecracker. In the span of 2 minutes, the same seven words crescendoed into a rapturous, psychedelic gospel explosion. The shabby stage curtains and cracked linoleum floor, the most ordinary of spaces, were left unrecognizable in the wake of the holy vortex, so that something altogether sacred remained. I can still remember the echo of the final note as my eyes rapidly darted to the back of the room where I was sure Jesus would bust through the door at any second. 

At the crux of the Christian hope is this notion of Jesus as our forerunner (HEBREWS 6:20) the one who blazes a trail through death with the anchor on whose chain we desperately cling. Yet what about Jesus’ forerunner, the one who blazed the trail for him? What about John the Baptist, the one whose call to preparation still echoes in the deepest places of our souls? “With the spirit and power of Elijah” I imagine John’s voice was so spine-tinglingly authoritative he could’ve summoned the rains in one breath and called down the fire of heaven in the next, a holy vortex indeed. Only this type of forerunner could have turned such stone-cold, wayward hearts back to God before the main event had even begun.

Yet as we anticipate the return of Jesus, the second Advent, the final redemption of creation and restoration of God’s beloved people, it seems we are now in the surprising, even mind-bending position of being Jesus’ forerunners ourselves, just like John the Baptist was to Jesus and just like Jesus is to us. How could we, the fair-weather receivers of His gospel ever hope to emulate this commanding voice in the wilderness? How could we the broken parents, the disobedient children, the unwise and unrighteous ever wholeheartedly proclaim, “prepare ye the way of the Lord”? Well, we can because He already has. We are forerunners of grace and forerunners by grace.

But how do we straighten and smooth and fill in and level off all the things that might get in the way of everyone seeing God's glory? In John 1, simple handles are put on this most daunting of tasks:

“There was a man sent from God whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all might believe. He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light. The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world." (JOHN 1:6-9)

It seems first and foremost, we must remember that we are not the Light. When we put ourselves in places only meant for God, we will be crushed under the weight of expectations and burdens we could never begin to bear. And yet we have been sent by God to this time and space, these relationships and influence, for our good and His glory, and this is good news. God invites us to be necessary, indispensable even, to this greater movement of light in the darkness and that should inspire us to do the things we think we cannot do.

And then like John, we are called to be tellers of God's story through our stories. For some reason, we gravitate toward playing judges and prosecutors, but we are simply tasked with being the witnesses, of telling our microcosmic versions of how HIs light has illuminated the dark of the world and the dark of our hearts. Recently, we heard through the grapevine that a beloved doctor of ours, a self-professed agnostic, was reconsidering the place Jesus might have in her life after hearing the place he has in our lives. We never sought to judge or convict or proselytize her, rather, we simply told her who Jesus is to us, and that was enough. Then the act of bearing witness to the light becomes the spark that ignites new light itself.

As we wait in the space between these two advents, the waiting weighs heavy. Waiting alone is hard, but waiting together is holy. And together we pull back the curtain of the yet-to-come kingdom of God when we bear witness to the ways in which the light of Christ has illuminated the dark auditoriums of our own souls. As we share our stories of grace in ordinary places, to ordinary people, it all becomes oddly sacred, and some who hear will find themselves for the first time amidst the wreckage of the holy chaos, and they will never be the same. Then we’ll all turn around together with baited breath, craning our necks toward the door in the back of the room, ready for Him to come, the One we’ve been waiting for.

{This blog was inspired by a recent sermon series at our church, BEL AIR CHURCH, listen HERE.}