Rev. Phyllis Kersten
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)
Pundits often say that there are two seasons here in Greater Chicago: winter and road construction. The sign “Construction Ahead” is not a surprise to any of us who have navigated nearby streets or faraway expressways the last several months.
What is surprising about Isaiah’s words here in Chapter 40 is that we’re being asked to become part of God’s road construction crew. Whether we’ve had prior earthmoving experience or not, we’re being asked to help prepare “the way of the Lord.”
Why? Because God is not just traveling alone: God is bringing God’s people back home at last from captivity and exile in Babylon. The highway needs to be straight and broad, with the uneven ground made level because among God’s people returning home are frail older folks and toddling toddlers, the blind and lame and fit young athletes, and everything in between.
John the Baptist quotes Isaiah’s words in the wilderness several centuries later. Why? Because he is asking God’s people then – and us today – to once again don our hardhats. This time we’re asked to make a pathway, a level and broad interstate, for the God in Christ who is still bringing people back home today from captivity and exile.
Oh, there is one more surprise in Isaiah’s text: that even though we’re called to “prepare the way of the Lord,” God is actually at the wheel of the backhoe, bulldozer and grader. How do we know that? From Isaiah’s use of the passive voice in verse 4: “Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low.” The passive voice signals that the construction of a broad and level homecoming highway is all God’s doing.
Thanks be to God – who brings us “home,” restores us to full relationship with God and one another in our Lord Jesus Christ.
Gracious God, help us to see that providing food to the hungry and shelter to the homeless is part of your work of making “the rough places” smooth and “the uneven ground level,” to create a homecoming highway for all. Amen.