“Glory in the Wilderness”
They shall see the glory of the LORD, the majesty of our God. —Isaiah 35:2
“The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.’” —Matthew 3:3b
Advent is the season when we await the coming of God’s glory, which has not yet come. Glory. Since the word is so odd, we may wonder exactly what it is that we wait for. We may even ask if we would know it if we saw it.
The glory of Yahweh is not simply bland, ordinary, enthusiastic religion. Affirmation of God’s glory is always a counter-statement. It is not only pro-Yahweh, but it is also determinedly anti. We do not know what to sing for if we do not understand what we sing against. The glory of God is not sung in a vacuum but in a context where much is at risk.
The context, according to this poem, is the wilderness and the desert. The wilderness is a place where the power for life is fragile and diminished. The inhabitants of the desert are those with weak hands and feeble knees and fearful hearts, those who have had their vitality crushed and their authority nullified and their will for life nearly defeated. This poem is a roll call of the marginalized, the blind, the deaf, the lame, the dumb, all the disabled. The wilderness is a place where the power for life is fragile and diminished.
It is Advent time in the wilderness. Shriveled up earth and crushed down humanity wait for the coming, in the wilderness. It is no wonder that John quotes Isaiah, “Prepare in the wilderness a special way.” It is no wonder that John, in anticipation of Jesus, says, “They shall all see the glory.” They shall all see God’s massiveness and power that transforms. The wonder and the oddness is that in the shadow of that great glory comes the protected, rescued, vulnerable, valued ones who travel for the first time in safety and in joy. There finally is shalom on earth, even in the desert. The choirs, however, never sing of shalom on earth, until they first celebrate the glory. The shalom of the desert follows from the glory of God.
In Advent, we know about the God who transforms, makes new, and begins again. No wonder creation and humanity, one at a time, all together, sing of the new world bursting with the abundant glory of God.
Too often we have become inured to the wilderness, O God, to the fragility and diminishment of life. But Advent is the season of your coming. May we celebrate your glory and sing of your shalom. Amen.
Throughout Advent we invite you to join us as we prayerfully prepare for Christ’s coming at Christmas with daily readings from Walter Brueggemann’s Devotions for Advent: Celebrating Abundance. They will be posted here daily with permission from the author, but we invite you to click the link to order your own copy.