We will never be adequately prepared for the coming of the Savior unless and until we feel in our bones that there is something we need to be saved from. If we don’t require salvation, then Jesus devolves, very quickly, into one wise man among many, one more spiritual teacher in a long line of similar figures across space and time. The great and ancient Advent chant, “O come, O come, Emmanuel, / and ransom captive Israel, / that mourns in lonely exile here / until the Son of God appear,” catches this fundamental Christian truth. Until we feel like prisoners held for ransom, men and women condemned to hopeless exile, we will not sing those words with anything even approaching conviction.
A passage from the sixty-third chapter of the prophet Isaiah provides a series of images that help us to articulate this sense of being in desperate need of salvation. “Why,” Isaiah laments, “do you let us wander, O Lord, from your ways?” The trope of the path is a common one in the Scriptures: there is a way that we are meant to walk in the spiritual order, and the vast majority of us tend to lose it.
There is a feeling that now only people of a certain age remember, and that is the sensation of being well and truly lost. I limit this to older folks, because today’s hyper-sophisticated GPS tools usually permit us to find our destinations with ease. But prior to those wonderful gadgets, when we relied on maps or, more frequently, on directions scribbled on a piece of paper, we much more readily got lost. When I was about seventeen and hence a very inexperienced driver, I was making my way through the streets of Chicago, looking for an expressway entrance. I managed to miss it, and in short order, as darkness was coming on, I realized, with a uniquely sinking sensation, that I didn’t really know where I was or where I was going.