Advent 2 – Joshua 3:1-6
Joshua declares that the Ark of the Covenant will lead the way.
That is the way it has always been since it was constructed, and before that, it was the pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night leading the way.
The children of Israel never went anywhere without God leading the way. Sure God took a roundabout way to get to the Promised Land; sure there were days when it felt like they hardly moved at all; and sure there were stretches of time at Mount Sinai when they most certainly did not move at all; but that was how they were taught; that was what their fathers and grandfathers did; that was how God wanted it.
And on those occasions that they did not listen, that they went ahead without God leading the way? The people were slaughtered by their enemies, and then admonished either by Moses or by Joshua, and then disciplined by God as well.
But when the people listened and obeyed the voice of the Lord, there was the Ark of the Covenant, leading the way. It is the Ark of the Covenant that splits the Jordan waters so that the people can finally cross on dry ground into Canaan. It is the Ark of the Covenant that leads the people to victory over the inhabitants of the Promised Land. It is the Ark of the Covenant that causes such fear and chaos among the Philistines, the long and troublesome adversary of Israel, that they return it after having captured it in battle.
Wouldn’t it be nice if there were a similar guide in our daily lives? That when you went to school, there was a pillar of cloud that clearly led you from class to class, and from activity to activity? Or that when you went in the store, that there was a pillar of fire that led you away from the food that harms your body and the literature that poisons your mind, and only led you to those things that were beneficial? Or maybe if the altar before us, or even the font were paraded through the community showing you the things that were godly, and avoiding the things that were ungodly?
Is God a good luck charm? Does worshipping the Lord of heaven and earth always mean that you will succeed and prosper? Certainly not in this world, but you will in the next. The promise to the people of old and to you and I today, is that to worship the Lord and to serve Him alone, is to live according to His commands and to receive eternal life.
Simply put, to follow the Lord where He guides, is not going to lead you astray.
Granted, this particular situation only goes on for so long. Once the people are settled in the Promised Land, and the Ark of the Covenant takes up a more permanent dwelling, particularly when the temple is built, the people do not have that clear and certain guide as they once did. They cannot look around and see the clear definition of God leading them on the way.
And without that clearly defined guide, the people falter. The people turn from God, they turn from His word and His ways and they chase after the things of the world.
And so perhaps we are just following the people of old. When they had that clear definite guide leading them, whether it was a pillar of cloud or of fire, or whether it was the Ark of the Covenant, the people were fine, but once they were settled, once they did not have that clear guide from the Lord, they faltered.
That sounds like a nice excuse; if God would just come to us once more and give us that clear and definite guide, we would be fine; but since we don’t have that, we are left to our own devices, and sometimes, most times, those devices lead us astray.
Except that excuse is exactly what it is: an excuse. And it works no more for us than it did for the children of Israel.
The children of Israel had the prophets and priests to guide them. The children of Israel had the house of the Lord in their very midst. The children of Israel faltered not because they did not have a fancy box leading them through every grocery store aisle and across the highways and byways of Canaan; the people faltered because they rejected God and His Word, just as they did before the temple was constructed and the Ark of the Covenant was leading the conquest of the Promised Land.
The Lord still sent His Word via His chosen servants. The actions of the Lord in delivering and preserving His people were still recorded and delivered to the people in the accounts passed down from generation to generation.
The guide for daily life once settled in the Promised Land was the same guide that the people had followed in the wilderness: it was the Lord and His Word. When things went well, it was because the people heeded God’s Word; and when things did not go so well, it was because the people rejected that Word.
Today, the Lord may not lead us through the pitfalls of life with the Ark of the Covenant parading on before us, but He still provides the same source of guidance and direction for our daily lives that He has always provided. We do have the Word of the Lord showing us the way, directing us away from the things of the world and toward the things of God. We have the call to live as God’s chosen and precious children in Holy Baptism; we have the nourishment of Christ’s body and blood in Lord’s Supper to sustain us; and we have the words of absolution to restore us when we go astray.
Who is our guide? Who is our leader? It is Christ alone. He is the one who comes to us and leads us in our daily lives with His Word and sacrament; He is the one who calls to us to repent and receive the absolution. He is the one leading us into our promise land not of rocks and sand, but of eternal glory in His kingdom forever.