“Prepare the way of the Lord,
make straight his paths.
Every valley shall be filled
and every mountain and hill shall be made low.
The winding roads shall be made straight,
and the rough ways made smooth,
and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.”
Crying out in the desert:
You’ve heard it asked, “If a tree falls in the forest, and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?”
And the typical response is, “That depends on what you mean by sound.”
Or perhaps, “What difference does it make?”
Crying out in the desert seems like a futile endeavor. Yet that was how John the Baptist announced the Advent of Christ, both figuratively and literally. What an odd way to prepare the way for the King of the universe. What an odd way to preach repentance and to prepare all flesh to see the salvation of God.
Last week I gave a talk to a group of parents on Advent as a season of preparation for Christ’s coming into the world. When I asked “How do you typically live Advent?” my words were met with dropped jaws and blank stares. After the talk a woman came up to me and frankly rebuked me, “That was an intimidating question. I was not prepared for that. In my family, we go to Mass, and celebrate Christmas and Easter, but we never really gave much thought to Advent.” It was not so much that she did not want to learn more about advent, but just that she had not even considered the question; so much the less was she prepared to answer it.
This reminded me of an analogy I heard just a few weeks earlier. The majority of Churchgoers live their faith like submarines; they only surface for an hour once a week on Sunday; the rest of their lives are spent beneath the surface, removed from the reality of faith.
Meanwhile, above the surface, there’s an open world of wonder they never see. That world is there 24/7, but they are not there to witness it. That world has little impact on their “submerged in the mundane lives.”
Christ does just the opposite. Jesus Christ entered the world and lived among us 24/7. He promised to be with us until the end of time. He promised to come again, yet warned, be prepared. How do we prepare ourselves when we live our lives disconnected from the reality that is “Crying out in the desert,” as it were?
A Voice of 1
Jesus does not just meet us half-way, he goes all the way. Out of mercy, for the love of our souls, he becomes incarnate.
In the beginning, when God created the heavens and the earth and the earth was without form or shape, with darkness over the abyss and a mighty wind sweeping over the waters.
At creation, a “mighty wind” — *ruah! — swept over the waters. The word for wind, ruah, is the same word for breath and spirit in Hebrew. It was ruah that God breathed into the nostrils of the first man — made in God’s image and likeness — thus giving Adam the gift of life. On Christmas morning, the Christ Child breathed his first breath of air (ruah), and the God who gave us breath, breathed among us.
I’m sure he cried out, as babies do, when he first filled his lungs with the cold night air, and few were there to hear him, save his Mother and Joseph, some shepherds with their sheep, and a few thousand throngs of angels. But we can all enter the stable to hear him and see him, by reliving this moment in contemplation, if our hearts are prepared to do so.
Logos meets Cosmos
Logos means “the word.” It can also mean “meaning” and “understanding.”
The word “cosmos” means world. It can also mean “beauty” and “order.”
What is cosmos without logos? The Gospel according to Saint John tells us that Christ was in the world that was his own, but that the world did not recognize him and his own did not accept him. Like his forerunner, John, Christ was like the voice of 1, crying out in the desert. Who would hear him?
Those who listened to, heard, and lived the words of the prophet Isaiah heard him and understood. The leveling of mountains and raising of valleys, at first, speaks of catastrophic destruction. We read on and we realize that crooked paths being made straight can only be the result of order, not chaos. To the one whose ears are prepared to listen, the words of the prophet are simple and clear: Christ is the Logos that brings meaning to our Cosmos — more precisely, makes it a cosmos, an ordered, beautiful, meaningful world.
Advent is a season short lived for people who dwell in submarines, spending the better part of their lives submerged beneath the surface of the reality of faith. For those who live on the surface, it is one of the most meaningful times of the year. A time to order our lives and prepare our souls to receive our Creator and Redeemer when he comes.
Make straight every path and prepare the way of the Lord.
And now, Just for thrills, and a little reminiscence….