Imagine yourself on a beach in the summer...
A nice picnic you have laid out with you, a cool breeze blows off the sound. It is a lovely day.
From over the top of sand dune, you hear the words, “O Captain, My Captain” and before you can take in the rest of the words, a naked man lands in the middle of your nice beach picnic.
And he continues on, “rise up and hear the bells…” and he continues running into the distance, shouting into the wind.
If this had been the mid-19th Century, you may have indeed encountered such a man on a beach, a poet by the name of Walt Whitman, who was known to go to a beach, strip off his clothes and run in the sand while yelling his poetry into the wind.
It is certainly one way to be inspired! I can imagine him shouting…
In the faces of men and women I see God,
and in my own face in the glass,
I find letters from God dropt in the street,
and every one is sign’d by God’s name.
And I leave them where they are, for I know that wheresoe’er I go,
Others will punctually come for ever and ever…
(Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass (1855), sct. 48.)
Like encountering Walt Whitman on that beach, John the Baptist comes to us, jumping into our lives, and unsettling us. He jumps into our quiet, restive Advent, or our bustling, chaotic Advent, and shakes things up. He is to be reckoned with and refuses to let us proceed to Christmas without dealing with him first.
And he shouts into the wind, words not of his own, words written by the prophet Isaiah, but words that fill his life and ministry…
Prepare the way of the Lord, he shouts!
“Make a road for the Lord in the depressed areas and make it straight. Every low place shall be filled in. Every hill and high place shall be pushed down. And the curves shall be straightened out and the washboard road scraped smooth. Then every human being will share in the good things of God.” (Clarence Jordan, Cotton Patch Bible)
Having grown in a part of the country built on a grid, where roads don’t curve all the time, where it is fairly easy to get from point A to point B because of the way the roads were set up. Here in CT, I hear John’s words and I say yes. May the curves be straightened out, the washboard roads smooth again! Amen, Come Lord Jesus!
But alas John the Baptist is not talking about the roads here, but he is announcing that the
For the curves will be straightened, roads made smooth, low places filled in, hills brought down and the road for our God will be straight…
In other words, people who are low will be brought up, the proud and arrogant will be brought down, those who are following the curves, lost on the crooked paths, will be lead to the straight, and all that is rough, will be made smooth…for our God is coming to us.
It is the world dreamed of by poets and proclaimed by the prophets… for every human being will share in the good things of God.
And yet, the words from Isaiah, that speak of John the Baptist, cannot be left as if the prophet Isaiah and John the Baptist were only speaking for their own day…
Oh no. Their gaze is upon us. Those words are not just announcing what God is going to do, but is doing right now, right here, in our lives, in our world.
And as faithful Christians, we are called to prepare ourselves and our world for the Lord, to make the roads straight…
Of course, the one road is our heart, our body, our soul, all that we are, we have to make sure we prepare this body for God.
In what ways are our lives out of whack, curved, rough, not what they should be?
Prepare says John. Make the road straight.
It is to lay aside that which is holding us back right now, to free ourselves to live into this Advent in prayer, in hope, in community and transform the depressed low areas and the haughty high places and straighten the winding roads of our lives, with the compassion and love of God.
We also have to work on the roads in our world to help make them straight…I think of the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, how much work had to be done, the roads had to be rebuilt…
And yet the real work is still to be done there, to eliminate the curves and rough roads of all those lives affected, to help those in poverty and in need find their road less hard than before, to feel the joy and connection of community again.
For in justice and compassion, we are to help get those roads straight, to help the roads in
And we must not stop there, but to look to other places, other roads and know we need to help out and raise up those valleys in
For in all of it, is our “work of repentance and our harvest of righteousness,” as one author put it. “We do all that we can to remove the curves and injustices that cause so much suffering and pain. That is our vocation, easily forgotten amid holiday busyness and jolliness. It is serious business, all-important business -- which is why John shouts at us incessantly.” (John Morris, 2000)
And we do it not of our fear and in solemn seriousness, but out of a heart of love and joy wanting to work and live in this hurting world, but also a world in which God is already making things new…
We do not know when someone like Walt Whitman or John the Baptist or someone sent by God will jump into our nice quiet beach picnic and stir things up. But in Advent, we are reminded by John the Baptist, who is shouting at us that before we get to Christmas, we are to be ready, to be prepared and stay alert for the
For just around that next curve or coming over the dune, God might be coming to meet you there. Amen.