The Road Goes Both Ways: Advent 2
We Christians like to remember how God came to us while we were stuck in our sins. It is good and right to do so. This week’s advent readings also point out that Isaiah’s road through the wilderness goes both ways, and that we are to seek God where/while he may be found (Isa 55:6-7). The prophet Isaiah speaks of the comfort of God for the people after the exile of the Kingdom of Judah. In 586 BCE, the notables of Judea and anyone worth deporting, according to the Babylonians, were taken away and resettled on the other side of the vast Hamad, or Syrian Desert. And there they stayed for generations. And it is only after the destruction of the temple, Jerusalem and the community of God in the Holy Land that God provides relief.
A voice calls out: “In the wilderness prepare the way for the LORD, in the desert make straight a highway for God. Every valley shall be raised up, every mountain and hill made low; the rough ground shall become level, the rugged places a plain” (Isa 40:3-4). Why would God, the maker of the universe, need a level, straight path to cross only a few hundred miles? Simply put, this God’s path is not for God to travel along, but for God’s people.
This wilderness, this desert that is to have God’s highway is the shortcut back to Jerusalem from the land where the Judahites had been resettled some 70 years earlier. The road is called God’s highway, but the traveling is for the people of Judah to return to their home place. When they arrive, they will find that God has come back to them and their land. Indeed, the prophet announces to Zion and Jerusalem the good news: “Here is your God!” (Isa 40:9) [Emphasis added]. God gathers his people, to be sure, and carries his people back to him like a shepherd with lambs close to his heart. But the directionality is important. God comes to God’s people, but first the people had to return to the place where God would meet them.
This pattern of God and the people both traveling to a site of meeting should not be surprising. This was the pattern with Abram who went to a place where God would show him; with Moses who turned aside to see a strange sight and encountered God in the burning bush; and then with all the Israelites who left Egypt to meet God at Sinai. God would come to God’s people again and again, but only after God led them to a pre-ordained place to meet. We see this phenomenon again in the Gospel of Mark.
John, Jesus’ relative, stood at the edge of that same Syrian desert that the people of God had been brought back across hundreds of years earlier. And he was there in the wilderness baptizing for the repentance of sins. But look at what the people did to receive that baptism: “The whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem went out to him. Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River (Mark 1:5) [Emphasis added]. During the ministry of Jesus in his pre-crucifixion life, the crowds also went out to him and followed him. Disciples go out and then follow after their Lord.
Now make no mistake, Jesus sought out the weak, lost and downtrodden who were so lost that they often did not even recognize the person who brought their salvation when he came to them. It is our obligation in following our Risen Lord to seek out the weak, lost and downtrodden with and because of the love of Jesus.
That said, it also behooves us who know and look for the Lord, especially during this season of advent, to make use of the highway that God has prepared through the wilderness places to prepare our hearts and lives for his coming.
Advent is traditionally a season of fasting to prepare ourselves for the coming of the Lord. God graciously comes to God’s people, even after he exiled them for their sins. Jesus came into this world as God’s ultimate expression of intimacy and solidarity with God’s beloved creation. There is nothing we could do or could have done to provoke God to this unmerited graciousness. Since we have seen God’s unmerited graciousness again and again in creation and in the stories of God’s people, let us also seek God out, knowing that the highway in the desert goes both ways: God comes to God’s people, and if we are wise, we also endeavor to make progress toward God.