A reflection on Isaiah 40:1-11 for Advent 2 by Rachel Taylor
“A voice of one calling in the wilderness, prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.”
As a hashtag tiny gay, a part of me always giggled at this statement from Isaiah – gleefully whispering to myself that thank goodness I couldn’t have that job. If nothing about me was straight, how could I be trusted to make straight paths?
I sometimes wondered if God through Isaiah trusted Jesus so little – that She would send someone to literally build the road She wanted Him to follow to make sure he didn’t get lost or waylaid. It sounded lonely, poor John painstakingly building this road foot by foot, six months ahead of Jesus and yet somehow also left behind by Him.
If John knew or accepted that Isaiah’s prophecy was about him, he would also have known he would work alone.
He would not be surrounded by friends or loved ones. He would lay the groundwork alone, lay the bricks alone, knowing that this path will lead Jesus to his own death, and believing that this path will also lead Jesus to his resurrection. John spends his entire life preparing those around him for someone better and brighter and more important than he is.
John knows that he is a miracle – a baby born late in his mother’s life, after a long period of barrenness, whole and healthy and strong, a baby with a heavenly purpose of his own – and yet he is only the miracle preceding the capital M miracle. He is not even worthy of untying his cousin’s sandals. That sounds lonely and isolating, too.
But sometimes the work of bringing Christ into the world is very lonely.
Even as we build communities like this one, full of laughter and joy and delicious disagreement, the work of then going out into the secular world and trying to live a Christ-like life can feel very isolated.
It seems every day there is something new to fear, and the fears from yesterday have not yet abated. Moving through this fearful world with the resolution that somehow, eventually, at the very end, all will be well, feels like starry eyed naiveté instead of a straightforward fact.
There are currently more displaced people and refugees than at any other time in history.
There are higher rates of sexually transmitted infections being left untreated and leading to further infection and death than at any other time in history.
There are more children living in poverty than at any other time in history.
There is more firepower available to more people in power than at any other time in history.
There is less money, less food, less clean water, less arable land, less everything available for more people than the planet ever expected to hold.
And yet, in another two weeks, we will hear a story that will tell us everything will be all right.
God Herself takes human form and human flesh – and the thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to – in order to truly understand why some of us stray from the path. Jesus will resolutely follow the path to the very end, both to set the example that it is possible, and also to see the challenge from the ground up, as it were.
Jesus takes the infinite expanse of God and poured it all into a couple of cells housed in the womb of a teenaged girl. If we believe that Jesus truly lived, then Jesus started the same way every person who has ever lived or will ever live started. As cells, microscopic and infinitesimal, multiplying and multiplying until they made a tiny person who might have looked like a gummy bear on an ultrasound.
He was born in a barn – which I hope led to many hilarious comments from his mother when he left the door open or neglected to wipe his feet when he came inside – he was raised by a man he did not believe to be his father. He ate, slept, loved, wept, made jokes, told stories that no one understood, and believed with all his soul, and all his strength, and all his might, that He would change the world.
As long as He stuck to the path, He would change the world.
American sci-fi and fantasy author Lois McMaster Bujold sums up my feelings about paths in her novel the Curse of Chalion (which I commend to you – I read it about ten times a year). Her protagonist, Cazaril, having been given a daunting and unmanageable path to walk, wonders about how many men before him have sent on the same path, only to turn away at some opportune inopportune moment. How many men before him have left God struggling to have Her wish for the world come to fruition, wringing Her hands as her beloved children make the mistakes She has warned them about and loving them anyway. In the novel, Cazaril goes on to internalize the age old question of free will and destiny. If something is destined, there is no free will – if we can choose paths that lead us away from our destiny, then destiny is merely a suggestion and not a fact. So why follow to the end of the path?
And none of these questions or answers have so far led me to discuss the only thing I was supposed to discuss in this reflection – what are we waiting for, and where is God in my life?
What are we waiting for? This second week of Advent we are still remembering how to be slow, how to be quiet, how to be small. Perhaps we are remembering to be a frail and fragile baby, calling out in a dark winter’s night.
This second week of Advent we are waiting for the good news of Christ’s coming – for a prophet to come out of the wilderness and raise valleys, bring mountains tumbling down, create level ground where there is none and then step aside to let the One walk that path with us to the very end.
This second week of Advent we are breathless with anticipation, in that funny in between time you get when rereading a favourite book or watching a favourite movie.
Is it possible this story will be different this time?
This time, will Ben strike back at Vader? This time, will Harry choose not to go into the forest for that final confrontation? This time, will Gollum decide he doesn’t really want the ring even after trailing it to the very fires of Mount Doom? This time, will God not come to earth in the form of a helpless baby? Will God not come as a patient and kind counsellor? Will God not come as the prince of peace? Will God not come at all?
But I believe. In starry eyed naiveté, I believe that God is with us, among us, in us. In reckless optimism, I believe that God is waiting at the end of the path and also walking alongside us as we travel that path. In fearful confidence, I believe that God is wringing Her hands over the folly of her beloved children.
In the midst of my loneliness and isolation and cold and fear, God is here.
God is screaming through every cell in my body, because She knows what it is to be only a cell, and to multiply into something more.
God is here, in this community which has welcomed me so completely – in my brokenness and in my wholesomeness and in my fear and in my triumph. God is here, and He is coming, and She is already holding us close to Her Heart.
Make straight paths for Her, from your heart out into this beautiful and broken world.
Make straight paths into the places that most need a wise counsellor, that most need a prince of peace. Make straight paths into the twisty and dark places in your own hearts, so that you can spill your light into the world.