Preparing the Way in the Midst of Our Clutter

Prepare the Way3He went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, 4as it is written in the book of the words of the prophet Isaiah, “The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. 5Every 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; 6and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.’” (Luke 3: 3-6)

 

So once again we encounter the wild wilderness man named John, the one who wears animal skins and eats locusts and honey (well, at least he has a condiment!) John is probably not the most pastoral one among us. He’s forthright and direct, pulling no punches. He doesn’t worry about making it easy for his hearers. His message? “Turn around, turn around NOW, get with the program…prepare the way of the Lord, do it NOW.” And there were at least some who listened, some who followed, and probably some who actually turned around.

 

We hear that we are to prepare the way all the time, particularly this time of year. And so we clean and we deck and we trim and decorate and we cook and we shop (and we shop and we shop and we shop) and we wrap and we open and we sing carols and we light candles and we assume that we have prepared the way. We do it all to prepare for the day, to prepare for the day when we celebrate the birth of Christ. OK, now are you sure that’s what John meant?

 

The truth is, we read this exhortation to prepare and we assume that we have to get busy, that it all depends on us. But where does it say that we have to build the road? We are promised a room (King James translators called it a mansion) that is just for us, a place in the Kingdom. Don’t you think the Way is already there? What preparation does the road need? Maybe the preparing that we are called to do is to clear the road that is already there, to clear the Way of the stuff that we have brought with us that now clutters the road. Our lives are so chock full of stuff and events and worries. Maybe our preparation is not about decorating or making the road presentable. Maybe it is rather about clearing a path on the road that is already there.

 

Maybe John, rather than asking us to build a way to a God that was already in our midst, was calling us to clear our pathway of everything that we have brought with us so that we can travel lightly, so that we can be nimble, so that we can be ready to change. Prepare the Way of the Lord. Make the pathway straight and clear. Do not clutter the way with meaningless thoughts and things but leave a pathway so that we can find our way home. THIS Advent, let us find our way home.

 

God is not attained by a process of addition to anything in the soul, but by a process of subtraction. (Meister Eckhart)

 

Grace and Peace,

 

Shelli

Comfort, O Comfort My People

 

 

Scripture Text:  Isaiah 40: 1-5Road through the desert

Comfort, O comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that she has served her term, that her penalty is paid, that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins.  A voice cries out: “In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain. Then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all people shall see it together, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”

“Comfort, O Comfort my people.”  That sounds nice.  It sounds warm and inviting, something that we can just sort of fold ourselves into and relax and let God take care of us.  Well, maybe.  But then what happens?  What we do with our lives after that?  The truth is, as much as we like to imagine a warm and fuzzy God that heaps everything we desire and everything we need to make our lives easy and comfortable on us, that’s not exactly the way it always is.  Here, comfort is not solace; here comfort is transformation.  God is promising something new.  These words begin with God’s initiative–to bring the exiles home.  Sure, it will mean ending their suffering and making their lives better.  But it is more.  It means that they will become something new–a new creation.  The former things have passed away.  God is not in the habit of rebuilding or “fixing” the way it is easy for us to imagine could happen.  God is the Creator, the great I AM, the one who brings newness and life.

 

So, God prepares a highway through the wilderness.  Now, don’t think that there wasn’t already a road there.  In the year 539 BCE, Cyrus of Persia conquered the Babylonians. Now he tended to be sort of a benign and tolerant ruler and so he allowed those who had been previously exiled from Jerusalem the chance to return home. So the people are beginning to return home, but to a home that was nothing like it was before. If you can imagine, these waves upon waves of people on this highway that leads toward Jerusalem—a Jerusalem that now lies in ruins without the Temple that used to be in the center of its life. This highway, a highway through the desert that, typical of the ancient world, was originally built to accommodate royal processions. Everything was done to make the highway smooth and clear.   The road was there, already made straight and smooth for the royals to travel.  And so the exiles, returning to “who knows what?” were on this road.

 

But, wait, look, over here.  God also promises a highway, smoothed and cleared of mountains and deep, treacherous valleys that would impede the journey.  God promises a holy highway built for a grand procession led by the Almighty God.  It’s still a road that you have to travel, but, rather than leading you to the ruins of the life you once knew, THIS road leads you Home.  And as we travel this road, God is creating and creating and creating the whole time, unfolding our life before us as long as we keep our eyes open to see what God is doing.  This is the way that the Glory of the Lord shall be revealed.

 

This is the road that Advent shows us.  It’s not one that takes us to the place that we’ve always known.  Advent shows us the newness that God is offering.  In the Advent season, we remember those generations upon generations that waited for a Savior.  We also prepare ourselves to remember once again how Christ came and comes.  But there’s another part of Advent that we miss.  It is this road, this road that we’re on that leads us to finally see things in a different light.  There is a Maori proverb that says “turn your face to the sun and the shadows will fall behind you.”  “Comfort, O Comfort my people.”  The Light is changing and you, even you, even now, are being made new.  “Then the Glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all people shall see it together.”

 

Learn to see and then you’ll know there is no end to the new worlds of our vision.  (Carlos Castaneda)

 

FOR TODAY:  What newness has God created in your life?  During this Advent, what newness can you find on the road?

 

Grace and Peace,

 

Shelli