Sermon for December 5, 2021 Advent 2 “Preparing”
‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth; and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.'”
This ancient text to herald the time of God is engrained as part of our Advent traditions. We are used to hearing these words as voiced by John the Baptizer as he proclaims the arrival of Jesus. And yet the same words are used and continue to be used in a variety of ways. So let’s take a look at how this phrase and image have been and are used, and how we might apply them to our Advent preparations.
The ancient prophet Isaiah was giving the people a glimpse of what the day of God’s arriving might look like. God’s arriving would be seen from far and wide, there would be no obstacles in the way, no mountains, no valleys and no sharp bends in the way. No matter where you were there would be clear sight lines to see God. All the people would have equal opportunity to witness God, from the High Priest to pauper, from Emperor to peasant, all would see and experience God. That was meant to be a good thing for in God’s realm no one would be left out and no one would have status or position over another.
The ruling elite then took this image and twisted to their own needs. They did not want a rough journey nor did they want to see the poor, sick or marginalized. So the roads were cleared, repaired and the outcast who gathered there were moved out so the elite could continue to believe they were god-like and by not seeing those in need had their view that ‘all was well’ confirmed.
This strategy continues even today. Under the guise of setting our communities in the best light (at least some one’s version of that) when royalty, popes, and leaders visit, the roads are repaired, exclusive invitations sent, flowers planted and so on. It just seems that is the right thing to do. I wonder if the Queen visited the lower west side of Saint John if she would get a fleeting glimpse of the highest child poverty in the country. I wonder if when the pope visits if he will experience the anguish of the murdered indigenous children left in unmarked graves. And we exclaim that we have made the mountains low, the valleys high and the crooked straight. When really we are hiding behind white-washed images of a less than stellar past and persistent reluctance to address social need in our day.
An image that was designed to give all an equitable place in God’s realm has been transformed to make us look good while keeping our brothers and sisters in need conveniently invisible.
I also believe that this text has a deeply personal and spiritually transformative translation as well. By that I mean there are most likely mountains and valleys and crooked paths in our lives that require our attention in the Advent time intentionally and indeed all year. I am not suggesting that we place all the ‘must work on that’ areas of our lives out on the clothes line or in this time, on the abundance of social media sites for all to see…and then comment on. The attention to this aspect of our personal/spiritual lives is a personal journey, we may from time to time need a companion to aid in our seeing clearly but the mountains and valleys are ours and require our attention.
So as we light the advent candles of our lives, may we be open to the obstacles and opportunities that open us into the fullness of life with Jesus. Knowing full well the teaching and observation of Paul, that for now, we can glimpse God only dimly but in the fullness of time we will see all things clearly.