Comfort, warfare, iniquity, wilderness, prepare. That’s how Handel’s oratorio Messiah begins. It’s Messiah season and a good time to reacquaint yourself with the words of this beloved masterpiece. The oratorio covers the purpose of the Messiah from beginning to end, starting with the wilderness.
Now who is the most famous ancient, wilderness dude you can think of? You got it: John the Baptizer. John is all about wilderness. He lived in the wilderness. He subsisted on a wilderness diet. He wore wilderness clothes that made the thrift store clothing look like haute couture. He was the original fire-and-brimstone preacher, taking over where the Old Testament prophets left off. Makes you wonder why anyone in their right mind would listen to him, but they did!
In those days John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness of Judea, proclaiming, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” This is the one of whom the prophet Isaiah spoke when he said,
“The voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight.’”
Now John wore clothing of camel’s hair with a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey.Then the people of Jerusalem and all Judea were going out to him, and all the region along the Jordan, and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.
“I baptize you with water for repentance, but one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.” ~ Matthew 3:1-6, 11
The only good thing about being in the wilderness is the exodus out of the wilderness! That’s our theme for this week. Think of it as a nice diversion from all those wacky holiday songs about the reindeer running over grandma.
Pull out your favorite recording of the Messiah, or you can listen here. Fear not. The part that relates to today’s post is in the beginning, right after the overture.
Come, Thou long expected Jesus,
Born to set Thy people free.
From our fears and sins release us;
Let us find our rest in Thee.
Israel’s Strength and Consolation,
Hope of all the earth Thou art.
Dear Desire of every nation,
Joy of every longing heart! ~ Charles Wesley, 1744.