“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, then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all people shall see it together, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”
One of my favorite pieces of music is Handel’s “Messiah”. When I was in college, I was part of a large choir that sang it every year during Advent. In recent years, I attended a presentation of the “Messiah” at Ken’s church in Skokie. I had the cassette tapes of the “Messiah” back in the day when there were tape players in cars and would play different sections almost every time I got in the car. In other words, I’ve been listening and singing this music for well over 40 years!
Consequently, when I read this section of Isaiah, I actually hear the echo of the “Messiah” in my head. Here we have a preview of the coming of the Lord; a preview of the words of John the Baptist found in every gospel. “Prepare the way of the Lord”. This is the invitation to each of us every Advent. Make straight in the desert a highway – God doesn’t want a road that is full of pot holes and detours. God wants a highway straight into our hearts during this season. Every year, it is our job to prepare that highway.
The story of Advent and Christmas is a story of reversals. The uneven ground becomes level. Mountains and hills are low. The prophet is speaking in metaphor, describing the kingdom of God. It will be a kingdom unlike any we have experienced before and we are to prepare a way for that kingdom. It has little to do with decorating trees, wrapping gifts, or baking cookies. It has everything to do with changing our attitudes, our perspectives, and the desires of our hearts. The very best part of this is that it is something we can do even in the midst of a raging pandemic.
Preparing the highway for the coming of the Lord means that we reach out of ourselves, our own comfort, and even our own families, to share everything we have and all that we are with others. I picture a world where those who suffer from COVID are healed and those struggling with addiction find peace. I picture a world where the poor are given voice and standing in society; a place where everyone is able to put food on their table and keep a roof over their heads. Straightening the highway means we straighten our own priorities and learn to love even the most unlovable with the love that comes from Jesus.
In order for the reversal that scripture speaks of concerning the birth of Christ to happen, we need to be willing to let go of the old order and embrace a new order. In these months of pandemic, we have seen how easily our health care and our economy can crumble and fail. I believe these days ask us to embrace the reversal called for as early as the prophet Isaiah. In so doing, our creation will begin to thrive again and our social structure will be strong and just. All people will have the privilege of fully living into their lives as beloved children of God. And the strains of Handel’s “Messiah” will be heard throughout the world.