“As it is written in the prophet Isaiah, ‘See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way; the voice of one crying out in the wilderness: “Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight…”’” (Mark 1:2-3, NRSV)
The gospel writer Mark identifies Isaiah as the author of the prophecy in 1:2-3; however, these verses incorporate portions of three Old Testament passages. Mark conflates Exodus 23:20, Malachi 3:1, and Isaiah 40:3 as part of his description of John the Baptist's role in calling for us to prepare for the One who is to come. The history behind these Old Testament passages belies that the Israelites had been waiting for centuries for the Messiah to come and save them. The fact that the Messiah never seemed to show intensified the frustration in hearing the words of prophecy and seeing the signs that the time of the Messiah's coming was at hand.
Most of us are mature enough to endure the waiting expected of us, at least as long as there is some movement toward the desired outcome. Without signs of progress, we're likely to give up on waiting and begin to work on solutions of our own. Some scholars argue that this is the original sin—to act independently of God—as if God cannot be trusted to fulfill his promises. If these scholars are right, my life is rife with original sin! I am a master at coming up with solutions when I've grown weary of waiting on God to act.
Waiting on God requires two core beliefs. The first one is to believe in God's faithfulness. God will do whatever God promises to do because God is faithful. The second core belief is to trust in God's timing. Not only will God do what God has promised to do, but God will do it at just the right time. This second belief is where we often get tripped up. When God doesn't come through according to our understanding of the right time, we lose trust in God's faithfulness and take matters into our own hands. When we preempt God's timing, we undermine God's faithful action, and we miss out on the blessings of God.
To prepare the way is to trust in God's faithfulness and timing in such a way that we wait patiently for God's will to unfold before us, regardless of how long it takes. 2020 has been a year of waiting and trusting. We must not let any fears about the future of our lives, or even our church, short-circuit the value of waiting on God in this season of uncertainty. God is faithful. And God's timing is perfect. In both of these assertions, we can place our trust. Waiting prepares us for when God's perfect timing has arrived.