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
We often forget that four hundred long, tumultuous years are compressed into the single page that bifurcates our holy scriptures into an old and new testament. Within the infinity of that blank page, God’s people waited and waited and waited in the deafening silence and weighty absence of prophetic words or divine appearances. I can only imagine how their once-helpful hope became heavy and burdensome, rather than buoying, as their faith faded in the long-expected Messiah. The ancient promises rang empty, their hope turned to shame, and their suffering bore out no redemption. Isaiah told them to prepare the way for the Lord, but it seemed that Lord had gotten sidetracked on the journey. The God who created and claimed them had abandoned them, by all accounts.
But, in His good timing, God hurled John the Baptist into time and space as the forerunner of their sworn Savior. John’s appearance was a thrill of hope that transformed their passive wait into an activated expectation.
There once was a man, his name John, sent by God to point out the way to the Life-Light. He came to show everyone where to look, who to believe in. John was not himself the Light; he was there to show the way to the Light. — John 1:6-9
John announced the flesh-and-bones manifestation of Christ in the person of Jesus. God graciously allowed Christ, who had already been suffusing God’s story since creation in many different forms, to live in the body of a person. Christ as and in Jesus — Immanuel — allowed humanity to experience, internalize, and empathize with God in an unprecedented way — as a friend, a teacher, a brother. A Man. The simple, surrendered, and selfless way of Jesus rescued humanity from the tyranny of self, and redeemed our suffering as an opportunity for refinement.
This initial advent of Jesus gave us the tools for building the Kingdom of God. Now we find ourselves in a second advent, another kind of intertestamental period in which we anticipate the consummation of God’s Kingdom — the lasting redemption of creation and restoration of humanity. But this time, we don’t have to wait in silence and or suffer in vain. We wait equipped with the example of Jesus, who used His earthly life to evidence how to leverage our suffering into endurance, our endurance into character, and our character into hope (Romans 5:3-5).
Jesus perfectly endured the sufferings of a human life, as well as the cosmic sufferings of humanity’s scapegoat. He allowed the suffering to push him deeper into compassion, patience, meekness, humility, and hope in the love of our Good Father. He bore out that hope to its ultimate form: resurrection, the transcendence of death and darkness.
With this subversive alchemy, Jesus invites us to build the Kingdom of God not with empires or infrastructure, but with the unlikely mortar of suffering and the intangible stones of hope. Isaiah’s call to straighten the road, fill the valleys, clear out the rocks, and smooth the ruts has nothing to do with the terrain of a highway through a wilderness. Rather, his words are an exhortation to spiritual rehabilitation to prepare a home for Divine Love in the wilderness of our human hearts. Just as a highway cannot be cleared without back-breaking physical labor, our souls cannot be formed into more gracious, patient, and peace-filled shapes without first rubbing against the sharp edges of suffering.
As we inhabit the space between the two advents, the waiting weighs heavy. But we can wait well as Jesus’s current forerunners by emulating John, Jesus’s original forerunner, who used his life to bear witness to the Light. It is a great comfort to remember that we are not the Light; we’re merely reflections of it. 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. We will not suffer perfectly or wait all that patiently, 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 great 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.
As we bear witness to the Light and share our stories of grace in ordinary places to ordinary people, the waiting — and even the suffering — become oddly sacred.
Story by story, witness by witness, hardship by hardship, grace by grace, we build the heavenly highway through the heart of humanity. For now, we illuminate the not-yet, already-here Kingdom by steadily reflecting the one true Light as best we can. Together, we’ll wait with baited breath and hope-thrilled hearts for Christ to be once, and forevermore, here with us.
Watch this Greeting from Katherine
Written for Devotionals Daily by Katherine Wolf, co-author with Jay Wolf of Suffer Strong.
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We build the Kingdom of God here on earth, through the long waiting, with stones of hope… imperfectly, but sacredly. Suffering can produce the thrill of hope in Jesus Christ. Come share your thoughts with us. We want to hear from you! ~ Devotionals Daily