By Anna Radcliffe
Bill Hybels has this famous speech he gives every year at the Global Leadership Summit. He says, “Good leadership gets people from here to there.” At first it appears obvious—of course that’s what good leadership is! But then, everyone in the room who has ever worked in an organization managing people realizes that this truth, while obvious, is extremely hard. It is difficult to get people to move from a comfortable place to a less familiar or completely unknown place. People don’t like to move from here to there very much. In fact, sometimes they hate it so much they even rebel against it, or worse, do everything in their power to make sure no one else moves either.
It is precisely this sort of moving, from here to there, that shows up in Matthew 3:1-6. John moves into the wilderness to preach the coming of Jesus and to call all who listen to turn from their former ways. Then people move.
When I think of the wilderness, I am reminded of the many times biblical characters stumble around there. It’s never a very fun place to be. Sometimes, people are without water or food. Sometimes they’re cold and alone, afraid of someone robbing them in the night. In popular Christian culture, wilderness has become a metaphor for transition, shaping, or formation. For me, it evokes feelings of unsettledness, fear, or longing to find new transformation and restoration. I think it is particularly interesting that John chooses to announce the coming of our Savior in the wilderness. Is it possible that John recognizes something about these people wandering to him in the desert? Is it possible that they are more willing to move from here to there?
I have a hunch that this is exactly what he thinks because later in the text we read that people from the cities of Jerusalem and Judea are coming to John in the wilderness to be baptized in the Jordan. Ancient people weren’t drawn out of the cities on a whim by a text from a friend. They moved from here to there in the name of their coming Lord.
During Advent, this is still a lesson we grapple with. We anticipate the coming of Jesus Christ and are called to readiness. Christ has come, Christ has died, Christ promises to come again. But while we’re waiting for him in a world that constantly reminds us of brokenness, sin, pain, and death, we are the ones who must continue to usher the beloved children of God from here to there. We are the ones who point to his coming. We are the ones who bow down to his glory.
This Advent lesson is twofold. We must ask ourselves, “Am I willing to move from here to there when God calls?” And, “How am I moving from here to there, and who is moving along with me?” It is in answering these questions that we see wilderness transformation: the restoration of our hearts as we move further from sin and closer to there—life in Christ.
Prayer: God, you are the best leader of all. Help us to follow you from here to there—and to be voices in the wilderness. Transform us until we lead like you.
Anna Radcliffe is the RCA’s coordinator to the general secretary and is planting a church in Grand Rapids, Michigan, with her husband, Ron. The 2016 Advent devotions were written by RCA church planters and parent churches.