Isaiah 40: 1-11
It is the beginning of the 6th century BCE. Babylon has just invaded Judah and has destroyed much of Jerusalem. The beloved temple was demolished, commerce horribly interrupted, and God’s chosen people, the Israelites, were whisked off to Babylon. Their exile has begun.
Far away from home. They were far away from the old familiar ways of doing things. Perhaps they were separated from family or friends. They cried and lamented: “Alongside Babylon's rivers we sat on the banks; we cried and cried, remembering the good old days in Zion.” (The Message, Psalm 137:1)
They yearn, they long for someone to save them, to release them from their bondage and their captors. “Come, God, soon, be with us. Buy us back, redeem us. We sit mourning because we are lonely, we are in exile. Don’t you hear us? When will you come?” Many years pass, generations actually. And then, like a healing balm applied to a wounded soul, the poetic voice of the prophet Isaiah speaks out……
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.” A voice says, “Cry out!” And I said, “What shall I cry?” All people are grass, their constancy is like the flower of the field. The grass withers, the flower fades, when the breath of the Lord blows upon it; surely the people are grass. The grass withers, the flower fades; but the word of our God will stand forever.
Get you up to a high mountain, O Zion, herald of good tidings; lift up your voice with strength, O Jerusalem, herald of good tidings, lift it up, do not fear; say to the cities of Judah, “Here is your God!”
See, the Lord God comes with might, and his arm rules for him; his reward is with him, and his recompense before him. He will feed his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms, and carry them in his bosom, and gently lead the mother sheep.
Unfamiliar places. Like the Israelites, we’ve all found ourselves in unfamiliar places. We go from comfort to a place of discomfort. We are unearthed from a place of ease and catapulted to a place of dis-ease. Not a person alive has been spared from changing conditions; everyone has found themselves traversing uncharted waters.
Perhaps you get accustomed to it like the Israelites did because you had no other choice. You begin to lay down roots in that unfamiliar land and life gets just a little more busy, a wee bit more complicated and before long you’ve settled in and in doing so clutter and baggage takes up residence with you. That’s inevitable when you settle in. Believe me, I know. I have had nine addresses in nine years and I didn’t move every year. I’ve always had stuff that accumulated and then needed to be tossed out upon my move.
You feel a little bit better, comforted as a matter of fact because you remember now that old familiar place. These words are the pin dot of light that pierces the dark. The sound of someone coming in the distance. This is the consolation that the words of God through Isaiah bring. Comfort, comfort, you are going home. There is a way.
So now’s the time to make ready. You need to prepare. It’s not easy to leave even though it’s what you’ve been dreaming of for all of those years. You know, sometimes we get used to our exiled place and oddly enough what was uncomfortable becomes very comfortable like a broken in shoe or slipper.
Yet and all, it’s time. Preparations need to be made and your route needs to be planned. There will be some street closures, some rocky roads, some high mountains engulfed in clouds or really low valley’s that you have to negotiate. Better lighten your load or else you’ll get bogged down. There are some things that you will just have to get rid of and unload before you can see for yourself and traverse the most direct route, the path that will safely take you home again. So too the pathway to Christ will be made so much more plain when simplicity overrules complexity.
As we draw closer to Christmas the message is clear that we have to make straight the path for Christ to come. We have to level the highs of our living and gird up the valleys of our depravity, in order to prepare the way because surely our lives have highs and lows.
Surely there are things that just get in our way from finding and following the path that we are to take. What extras do you carry around with you today that you need to set aside or perhaps just toss in the dumpster? What very large mountains do you have to ‘make low’ in order to receive the Christ child that is coming? Are there valley’s that you have a hard time emerging from?
If you need forgiveness of someone, of God, of yourself, then ask. If you are in need of reconciliation, then forge ahead. If you need rest, then take it. If you need to clear out a few things and let go, then please, just do it.
Waiting in expectation and longing and yearning. Clearing out, mapping the safest and most direct route, that’s Advent. It’s not the frenzy and preparation that begins after Thanksgiving, the decorations, the buying, the parties, the buying, the cookies, the buying, the activities, the card buying, card writing, card sending, card receiving. This is not Advent. Advent is not adding on hills and valley’s it’s stripping them away. It’s simplifying, enjoying, and reflecting God’s abundance in your life and preparing for the advent of the real Savior Jesus Christ.
We must reclaim this season, this very, very sacred time of year for our own preparation. If we do not prepare our hearts we will lose the profound impact and the immeasurable influence that the birth of Christ can have upon our lives and the world. How can you see the one light when these flashing electrical lawn displays endeavor to outshine the greatest light?
Our lives are complicated but Advent is not. It is hope. It is faith. It is having the strength to be, to sit in a barren, empty, exilic place and then to prepare to come home again. It’s knowing that in spite of our best efforts the perfect Christmas will happen. We have no control over that. God does. The incarnation, God revealing Godself in the person of Jesus is the most flawless Christmas ever. It is a miracle of the most perfect kind. And it happens without any fanfare when our hearts are uncluttered to receive this gift.
Prepare the way.