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Monday, December 3, 2018

“Waiting for Another”

Matthew 3:1-6

Dec. 3, 2018

Just as Mark’ gospel is written to a Roman audience, Matthew’s is written to a Jewish one. John the Baptist is clearly modeled on the Old Testament prophets, especially Elijah as we have noted.  John is also seen as the fulfillment of the prophecy in Isaiah 40:3.  Matthew’s audience would certainly recognize that.

A striking point is that the theme of the “wilderness” would have had relevance for both a Jewish and a Roman audience.  For Greeks and Romans the wilderness would have referred to places of desolation and danger.  Odysseus encountered forms of the wilderness in his journeys which included the cave of the “horrible monster,” the Cyclops, and his descent into Hades, the place of the dead.

For the Hebrews the wilderness was also a place of danger and indeed temptation.  This included false gods like the golden calf along with the gods of the Canaanites.  However the wilderness was also the place where the Israelites encountered God.  It was in the wilderness that God made his covenant with them and gave them his law.

It is therefore not surprising that John’s call for repentance takes place in “the wilderness of Judea.”  People come out to repent of their sins which is also a way of returning to the covenant God made with them in the wilderness.

John is a pivotal figure in the Advent story.  He proclaims the coming of the Lord.  At this season the world proceeds immediately to its celebrations of the “holiday season.”  Yet Advent reminds us of the wilderness.  The quality that both the Roman and Jewish views of the wilderness have in common is that it is a place of testing.  God says as much (Ex. 20:20).  Both Odysseus and the Israelites fail the test.

Jesus comes into the world not because we are doing well but because we all fail the test of obedience to God.  Advent then is a season in which we are called to come to terms with our failures, our struggles, in the wilderness.  The great promise here is that “the kingdom of heaven has come near.”  God comes to us not in our successes but in our failures.  That is the hope not only of Israel but of the whole world.

Gracious and merciful God I confess that I often find myself in the wilderness.  May these experiences draw me closer to you as I await your coming in this Advent Season.  I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.