Holy One, grant us a stillness to silence the chaos around us, to allow for self-examination. In our introspection may we find courage, that our courage would move us to action, and that our actions would reflect Love come into the world. Amen. (Seasons, 12/6/20)
John the Baptist is one of the enduring images of Advent. John, the one who lives in the wilderness. John, who appears like a wild man, wearing funny clothes, and eating funny things. John, calling us to repent, to change, to prepare for the coming one, to prepare for the coming of God’s reign, to prepare the way.
It hit me this year that those familiar words of Isaiah were written during the exile. When people were far from home. At a time when the preparation seemed for a day way in the future (maybe not even in your lifetime). It is in that context that Isaiah calls to the people of God to prepare the way of the Lord.
So I went back to listen to Isaiah. And this is what I heard. It starts with comfort—like the beginning of a period of meditation. “Take a breath, I’ve got you, Whatever is in the past, is past, Now let’s look forward. And how do we get there? We make a way where there is no way—we change the landscape. If there are valleys, low places—they need to be lifted up. If there are mountains to climb, then we need to knock them down a little. If there are bumps and potholes in the road, we need to fix them. If there are rocky patches, we need to pave them over.
I have always been fascinated by the image of needing to build a roadway for the king—because that is what you did if the king was going to come into your territory. Truth, This was a thing. If the King was coming to come visit—all of a sudden there was money for infrastructure! All of a sudden, roadways needed work done on them, because the king’s horses and the king’s chariots and the king’s litter needed a wide, beautiful, smooth road. You wanted the best for the king—just as we put out the red carpet, and get the nicest limousines, and open up the most expensive restaurants when we are hosting a celebrity, or royalty. That’s what John is talking about. Prepare the way in our world.
But then John went one step further. He implied, not only should we want to prepare the way physically, we should want to do it spiritually as well. To even out things. To smooth over things. To prepare the way. Of course in our world. But also in our lives.
And so John came preaching repentance. Preaching that we needed to turn things around. Preaching that this wasn’t just for our own edification, Preaching that this wasn’t for him (John). Preaching that this was because there was One coming, One mightier than any of us, One who was so above, in the hierarchy of things, that John wasn’t even worthy to stoop down, to grovel in the dirt, to untie his sandals, much less wash his feet, or anoint them with oil and hair. That is why we prepare. Because of the Advent of that One.
And people listened. People flocked to hear John. People rushed to the river to be baptized.
This week we have lit the “peace” candle—and that always seems a little jarring in the context of John the Baptist—because we have such a narrow definition of peace. Say “peace” and people think of things like that Lincoln car commercial where Mom walks into the house where the dogs barking and the kids and Dad are playing with drones (and breaking things), and she slips out the door, back into her Lincoln for some “peace and quiet.”
Peace, in a biblical sense, isn’t just rest or quiet or absence of war. Peace, for John; Peace, for Jesus, was a much more active thing—Shalom. Shalom is the time when justice will prevail and wholeness will have been achieved (for us all). John’s words seem to be talking about getting ready for THAT type of peace—what I’m calling today “holy peace.”
Our Jewish brothers and sisters have a saying “Tikkum olam” which roughly translates as “repair of the world”—That is what peace, shalom looks like. That is what preparing the way looks like. That is the prayer we lift to the heavens when we light our peace candle. Help us, O God. Help us to be a part of “tikkum olam.” Help us, in the words the prophet Isaiah (Isaiah 58:12) used by the Rev. Dr. Barber, and the Poor People’s Campaign (and the PCUSA’s One Great Hour of Sharing appeal), help us to be “repairers of the breach.” Help us to prepare the way.
Last week we talked about sparking hope, prodding us to consider ways that we can make this season a little easier for someone else. Today, along with sparking hope, we need to consider how to construct peace, Shalom, here and now.
Do we think that peace is just a given. Something that descends from heaven? Something that we slip away from it all to bask in by ourselves? No, cries John—echoing the prophets from ages past. No, you don’t get to shy away from the work of peace. For there is so much work to do.
Look at the valleys
Look at the mountains
Look at the uneven places
Look at the rough spots
In our world
In our selves
Prepare ye the way of the Lord, cries Isaiah, cries John. Advent trumpets the fact that God is coming.
GOD is coming.
God IS coming.
God is COMING.
And what do you do when the king is coming? You prepare the way.
“Speak!” © Renee Roederer
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…” Isaiah 40:3–4
Speak words into the air.
Launch them into being.
Create entire worlds of meaning
Comfort, O comfort my people,
says our God.
Expand the universe of thought and possibility,
propel it forward with sacred truth.
From your mind and heart, begin to introduce
God’s way of naming
We are the Word’s cultivation,
We are the world’s culmination,
speak words of form,
We are born!
Sound words of grace,
We are free!
Shout words of love,
We are known!
your very breath,
your very being,
let air become sound,
let sound become word,
let word become truth, for
we are transforming,
we are becoming, and
we are recognizing
what is real and deep:
We are God’s Great Love.
We are God’s Great Love.
May we be part of Tikkum Olam, may we hear the call to do the preparing work of Shalom, Holy Peace. Alleluia, Amen.