Tuesday, December 06, 2005

A voice in the wilderness...

Comfort, give comfort to my people, says your God... A voice cries out: In the desert prepare the way of the LORD! Make straight in the wasteland a highway for our God! Every valley shall be filled in, every mountain and hill shall be made low; The rugged land shall be made a plain, the rough country, a broad valley.
A voice says, "Cry out!"
I answer, "What shall I cry out?"
"All humanity is grass, and all their glory like the flower of the field. The grass withers, the flower wilts, when the breath of the LORD blows upon it. Though the grass withers and the flower wilts, the word of our God stands forever."

-From Isaiah 40

John the Baptist quite literally preached in the wilderness of Judea; his dress and lifestyle show that he is clearly alienated from the norms of society, as prophets of his ilk were sometimes wont to be. And so he proclaims his message from the margins of society in a time of great upheaval and discontent with the social order and its rulers, Jewish (or semi-Jewish, as was the case with Herod), and Roman. John's preaching was charged, considered seditious by some. The powers and principalities were keeping a close watch on John (and we all know they would eventually have his head). All was not calm, all was not bright. It was troubled, it was dark.

So when we tell this story on this second Sunday of Advent, we remember yet again that the Advent we celebrate in Christ's church resists cultural attempts to reduce the weeks before Christmas into nostalgic retreat, to escape into warm fuzzies of...snow gently falling outside, the crackling of a fire in the hearth and the sweet singing of carols. And I am not saying that these are not good things - Lord knows I love all these traditions that appeal to our senses and comfort the body and mind. But that is not the kind of comfort Isaiah is talking about here.

Indeed, the message of Isaiah might not sound like traditional words of comfort of all - they are words of upheaval. The crooked paths are being made straight, rocky, uneven ground is made level, the valleys are raised up, the mountains are brought down. And it is all the Lord's doing, Isaiah says. I can't help but think of another song from our scriptures that we often invoke during this season of Advent, Mary's own song, “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord, for he has put down the mighty from their thrones and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, but the rich he has sent away empty.”

This message of upheaval and reversal of fortune, brothers and sisters, was a word of comfort to Isaiah's hearers because, you see, they were living in the valley of the shadow of death and destruction which was about to be exalted. All flesh is like grass, the prophet tells them, and for them that is good news because the strength of human flesh has prevailed against them. But it will pass, and indeed is passing even now, says the prophet. But the word of God stands forever.

Jesus was born into the wilderness of time to offer us the chance for life, abundant and free. This Advent let us not accept cheap substitutes for the life of the Spirit, but let us walk into the landscape of wilderness where we sense that voice calling us, that we may hear the good news that will turn us around, Behold your God. Alleluia. Amen.
By our Sister Karen, in Morocco


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