1 The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. 2 As it is written in the prophet Isaiah,
“See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you,
who will prepare your way;
3 the voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord,
make straight the paths of the Lord,’ ”
4 John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 5 And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. 6 Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. 7 He proclaimed, “After me one who is more powerful than I is coming; the thong of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. 8 I have baptized you with water; but the one who is coming will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”
Please pray with me this morning, church:
God of Peace,
Stir up your power,
And break in to our world.
Settle our spirits with your peace.
Help us reflect and embody peace
To our neighbors.
Where do you find peace?
What is it that settles deep in your spirit and calms all the storms going on in your life and brings you that heavy and abiding peace?
What does a broad sense of peace look like to you?
I’ll confess to you, friends, that not much feels peaceful in my life these days. I feel like I’m internalizing a lot of the external anxieties in our world…and it’s exhausting. The silent nights seem to have been replaced by groans and bickering. The calls for waiting and patience fall very differently on our ears this year…we who have been under some form of quarantine or lockdown for 9 months…or 267 days since we shut down…but who’s counting…?
Patience is wearing thin…right?
It’s in the midst of such an unsettled world that these words from Isaiah and from Mark are hitting me differently this year. Instead of words of warning, I think I’m receiving these verses from Isaiah in the comforting spirit they were intended when they were written. Instead of a casual introduction to a narrative story about an itinerant preacher from Nazareth, I think I’m hearing Mark’s very first words as a promise.
“Comfort…O comfort…my people……says your God…”
“The beginning…of the good news…of Jesus…the Anointed One…”
In a world that often doesn’t feel very peaceful, I have to remind myself of the words of the Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King, Jr., “Peace is not the absence of tension…but the presence of justice.” In a world that feels so divided, so at odds with each other…true peace isn’t simply that those tensions aren’t felt, right? Because we know that even though we might not feel that tension, that tension can still be present, percolating just below the surface, waiting for a moment to come bursting forth. But true peace…that abiding, lasting, deep-settling peace…that comes from justice. God’s justice.
And that’s on us. It’s not simply our call to sit back and wait around and expect God to do something. Prayer’s part of it, but we are not called to stop with prayer. Prayer is always followed by action. Prayer necessarily leads us to act. You want peace? You’ve got a part in bringing about that peace.
And that part is what both Isaiah and John the baptizer call out for: “Prepare the way for the Lord.” The Lord is coming, so start making things ready.
The Lord has already come and is arriving.
So what does it mean to make pathways smooth? If the Lord is arriving, couldn’t the Lord make the paths direct and smooth without our help?
Well, certainly…God can do whatever God wants. But then what’s our role in God’s work?
If we’re simply part of making the mess and leaving it for God to clean up, we abdicate our responsibility to live as the people God has called us to be.
Church, we are called to be people who actively work and prepare for God’s arrival…and we’re called in ways to live as if that arrival is already a reality. The coming of God is both a present and a future truth. It’s not just to rescue us for some time on down the road, but is meant to impact and change how we live in this time and in this place.
Under normal circumstances, that is, when we’re not in the middle of a global pandemic when you would invite people over……remember parties? Remember having people over and sharing cups of cheer and gifts and good stories and laughter…? Hmmmm…….I miss those days… We’ll get back there soon… I promise……but remember when you would invite people over for a party? No one would ever invite folks over, then give them a mop or vacuum cleaner as they walked in the door and tell them to get to work. You don’t do that, right?
Advent is a little like that. Preparing the way for God, making rough places smooth and curvy paths direct means doing what we can with what we have to prepare and announce God’s arrival to a hurting world in desperate need of a savior.
And sometimes that work is incomplete, right? We’re not God; we don’t have all the tools and utilities and best ways at our disposal…but we do what we can with what we have. And sometimes the work looks pretty shoddy. Sometimes making rough places smooth for us looks like filling potholes with off-brand asphalt, using shovels and trowels instead of a paver and a steamroller. But it’s still our work to do.
Our work is incomplete and imperfect. But we still have a responsibility to live as the people God has called us to be.
Church, I know this time feels like wilderness. Believe me, please believe me…it is for me, too. I don’t enjoy this. This isn’t fun for me. It feels as if at some point we left the wilderness of Lent and turned right into the wilderness of Advent, and I’m not exactly sure when that switch happened, but all I know is that this has always felt and still feels like wilderness.
But I trust that the wilderness is where we’re called to be.
It’s where the prophet and John are calling us to and where the Lord is supposed to arrive.
So I trust that’s where we’re supposed to be.
And friends, the good news is that the wilderness is where God is.
God meets us in the wilderness, but God doesn’t leave us there. In the wilderness, in a backwater town is where the manger is laid. The cross stands in the midst of the wilderness, pointing to the empty tomb, proclaiming that death is not the end, that death does not have the last word, and that through the resurrection of Christ, God has taken away the power of death and has overcome it.
Ultimately, all these stories…our stories…are about coming through the wilderness.
The hope and the promise of Advent is that in this time of waiting and anticipation when it seems like the wilderness is all there is and will never end, that the light of the world is being born in our midst. The dawn is breaking through the night.
The promise is not how long the wilderness will be…it might be 40 days…it might be 267 days…it might be 40 years. The promise is not how long…the promise is that regardless of how long you find yourself in the wilderness, that God is right there with you…traveling with you, supporting you, holding you, guiding you, loving you, embracing you, and carrying you.
Emmanuel…God is with you. Even when…especially when…it’s hard to see God.
Church, that’s a peace I can work for.
That’s a peace that settles deeply over my spirit.
May it be for you, too.