November 26, 2018
Scripture Isaiah 40:1-11
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.”
The grass withers, the flower fades; but the word of our God will stand forever.
Isaiah 40:3-5, 8 (NRSV)
Advent is a time of preparation. Inspired by scripture and confirmed through our faith, this time of change spills over into the Christmas season that we experience each year: the anticipation of seasonal festivities, family gatherings, purchases, gifts, food, and family traditions. And yet, the prophet Isaiah is referring to deeper aspects of our living than even these typical experiences of the holiday season. Specifically, Isaiah described preparing a highway for a royal traveler. In that time, the preparations and improvement of a main thoroughfare would make for easier travel for a king during a planned journey. But, major projects like these usually were reserved for greater occasions, such as crowning a king or emperor.
We encounter references such as these in many parts of the Bible, but they are used to emphasize God’s majesty and power, which reach far beyond secular rulers. The prophet Isaiah wants us to prepare for the glory of the Lord, which is another purpose for the tradition of Advent. The early church read through these passages of Hebrew scripture again and again, and interpreted them as references to Jesus and his ministry, death, and resurrection. With these insights, the ministry of John the Baptist was incorporated into the Gospel story as we find it in Matthew (3:1-12), Mark (1:1-8), and Luke (3:1-6).
As we proceed through Advent and the rush toward Christmas Day, keep the long view of Christ’s message shown in God’s grace and forgiveness. Transformed by God’s call to us, the spirit of giving and forgiving will last long into the New Year.