On this date, October 18th, in 1867, the United States formally took possession of a wilderness land that had previously been owned by Russia. Alyeska, named for the Aleut word meaning “great land” is better known to us today as Alaska, the 49th state to enter the Union – on January 3, 1959.
The purchase was made from Russia at a price of less than $.02 per acre – yes, 2 cents per acre… the 528,412 square miles cost us $7.2 million and was approximately twice the size of Texas. In fact, Alaska is about 25% of the size of the lower 48 states yet it still remains very sparsely inhabited today. Back in the mid 1800’s, Russia thought that it was too difficult to defend the outpost and they feared losing it during a war with adversaries. Rather than risk that possible outcome, Russia sold the land to the United States during the administration of President Andrew Johnson, our 17th president who ascended to the office upon the assassination of Abraham Lincoln.
Johnson’s Secretary of State, John Seward, negotiated the deal and the land quickly became know as Seward’s Folly… a derogatory term based partly on the fact that Andrew Johnson had serious political problems of his own. In fact, he was later impeached and retained the presidency by only one vote.
The land, while very inexpensive, was still remote, difficult to defend, a frontier wilderness and full of natural resources. Janet and I have toured parts of Alaska by train and also by cruise ship. It is beautiful but rugged and it would not be easy to settle there without a real love of the outdoors and a strong desire to be self reliant.
Alaska became more popular when gold was discovered in a tributary of the Klondike River in 1896. People flocked to the region and even today, people are attracted to Alaska in search of gold. By the way, Janet and I actually panned for gold when we were there and found several small pieces in the area that we worked after touring a working gold mine. Each year Alaskans celebrate two special holidays – Seward’s Day occurs on March 30th and commemorates the signing of the deal to purchase the land – and Alaska Day is celebrated each October 18th in commemoration of the actual possession of the land in 1867.
Twenty five percent of the nation’s oil and almost 50% of our seafood come from this remote area. And it still takes a special kind of dedicated person to live off the land in this wilderness. Our verse for tonight recalls the words of the prophet Isaiah who announces the future coming of someone preparing the way for the Lord. In fact, this person will come through the wilderness and the glory of the Lord would be revealed. John the Baptist was the one who announced the coming of Jesus at the beginning of his ministry.
God can get through to people anywhere. Sometimes, we worry about people in the remotest parts of the world and how will they ever hear the Good News of Jesus. But the Holy Spirit does not have any constraints and we don’t have to worry that eventually all the people on the earth will learn about the Trinity. Of course, Christians can help in the effort to reveal Christ to the world and prophets have been doing that since long ago in the Old Testament.
Isaiah tells us, in Isaiah 40:3,5, “A voice of one calling: “In the desert prepare the way for the LORD; make straight in the wilderness a highway for our God… And the glory of the LORD will be revealed, and all mankind together will see it. For the mouth of the LORD has spoken.”
My encouragement this evening is that God is everywhere and can reach even the most remote parts of our world. My prayer is that the knowledge of God and the Good News of Jesus Christ will be known throughout the entire earth – even in areas that seem to be inaccessible – the wilderness. Have a great day in the Lord, grace and peace…