Preparing a Way for the Lord

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash of frosty pathway

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

On the Second Sunday of Advent we hear the Lord’s call to comfort his people, and Isaiah’s answering call to prepare a way for him in our hearts (cf Isaiah 40). Then Mark’s Gospel opens with the figure of John the Baptist in the wilderness, quoting the prophet and plunging us into the drama of welcoming the Messaiah into the most secret parts of our being (cf Mark 1. 1–8). Surely we are in a dry and dusty desert, under searing skies, contemplating the stoniness of our own hearts? Perhaps we are, but for those of us in northern Europe the illustration above may resonate a little more than some romantic image of a desert we have never personally experienced — our hearts may be frosty, tangled, fenced in. Without pressing the analogy to absurdity, it is easy to see there are many ways of avoiding God, of refusing to engage while all the time preserving our chosen sense of self. Advent is a time of stripping ourselves of our defences, of allowing God to work in and on us. There is nothing romantic about that. The barriers we put up against God have to be taken down. It may be painful, but it is also liberating and a great joy.

Personal
One reader has expressed disappointment that I’m not posting every day during Advent. I’m having chemotherapy and my brain cells are ‘socially distancing’ at present. But I’ll write when I feel I can.

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The Glory of the Lord

Yesterday the snow fell thickly, turning the Black Mountains white and ushering in a wonderful silence that has lasted all night. Into the hushed darkness a voice cries, ‘Prepare a way for the Lord; make his paths straight.’ It is John the Baptist with his burning zeal, urging us to repent, to turn again to the Lord that he may heal us of sin and iniquity. We know that it is in the person of Jesus Christ that we are healed, and that it is his coming that will transform the world. That is the comforting promised by Isaiah, the glory of the Lord that will be revealed to us, but it is far from being the cosy business our common use of the word ‘comfort’ would suggest.

Throughout Advent we are stretched in ways that at other seasons we barely notice or conveniently ignore. We await a Saviour who has already come, and who is to come again at the end of the ages. We thus live in a strange time out of time, difficult to describe but very real to us who are in it. It can be exhausting; it is always demanding. Just as snow makes a familiar landscape fresh and new, so Advent confounds all our old certainties and invites us to set out on a way that is both known and unknown. We know our goal; we know in theory how to achieve it; there is ‘just’ the problem of the journey. And what an arduous journey it often turns out to be!

Today there are many false prophets in the world, with their seductive visions of how to attain personal fulfilment. For a Christian, personal fulfilment means something quite different from that usually presented as such. We are called to holiness, to a selflessness that makes no sense except sub specie aeternitatis. We may not yet have eyes to see it, but the glory of the Lord is all around. It shimmers and shines throughout creation. We must begin by allowing ourselves to be bathed in its light, then follow with joy:

Let every valley be filled in,
every mountain and hill be laid low.
Let every cliff become a plain,
and the ridges a valley;
then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed
and all mankind shall see it;
for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.’
Go up on a high mountain,
joyful messenger to Zion.
shout with a loud voice,
joyful messenger to Jerusalem.
Shout without fear,
say to the towns of Judah,
‘Here is your God.’

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