Prepare the Way!
2nd Sunday in Advent
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, Amen.
In the reading of Isaiah 40:3, Isaiah writes about “The voice of one crying in the wilderness:” This is not a voice crying in lament or woe. This is not the sobbing or weeping in a loud voice either. This voice is that of a herald calling out information to those who can hear.
Before the newspaper, television or internet, information was passed along by voice. The people who brought these messages were called heralds and locally even dubbed ‘town criers’. These people were assigned, were called or were commanded to give out information to the general populace such as: proclamations by the king, news about impending warfare between kingdoms or tribes, and even annunciations of impending visits by the King himself.
Often the herald would travel from town to town and village to village bringing the good or bad news. If the job of the crier was to inform people then why would such a person be crying out in the wilderness? Can’t the herald see that no one is around to hear the news? Maybe he is taking the king’s command literally and proclaiming the coming of the people’s Lord continuously. Maybe the Lord knows that some people do live or travel in the wilderness and wants to make sure everyone gets the news.
Many times, in such instances, the royal herald would be accompanied by trumpeters. Loud blasts of the horns would get the attention of the people, busy about their everyday lives, so that they would stop what they were doing and pay attention to the message.
When I read this passage I immediately thought about ships traveling on the ocean at night or in deep fog. The ocean is very much like a desert with not many people, but when visibility is low, the ship will often sound its loud horn. This is to warn other ships or boats that something big is coming and you might want to move out of the way.
Crying out is what is described in Isaiah when he spoke of the watchman along the walls of the city, warning people of danger. My dog does this whenever another dog walks by the fence or when the UPS man delivers a package. She also barks at other dogs while riding in my truck as I drive down the road. Maybe she’s my herald warning them to get out of the way!
In a way, the sounding of trumpets and heralds yelling out, “Prepare the way of the Lord!” may very well act as a warning to any ne’er-do-wells to stay out of the way. It may also comfort people to see their king and hear his proclamations of peace and prosperity.
This is the type of crying we see in our Old Testament reading in Isaiah and in the Gospel reading of Mark.
A voice cries:
“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. [Is 40:3–4]
This is a proclamation made by a messenger, the prophet Isaiah, so that people will know of the coming of our Lord God, the Messiah promised to the people of Israel.
This promise, made so long ago, came into reality in the birth of Jesus Christ. His Advent was a long time coming but God did not forget His people or His promise. The birth of His only Son ushered in the new era of God’s reign in the hearts and minds of all people.
Again, a voice cries out. “Prepare the way of the Lord and make his paths straight.” [Mark 1:3b] But how shall we do this?
In times of old, when a king or ruler was to come to a city in his kingdom, the people would be told ahead of time of his arrival. The subjects of the king would then begin preparing for his visit.
They would literally prepare the roads and paths in which the king would travel. Just as our highways here are repaired and repaved every summer, these people would go out and fix the roads. They would fill in the holes; if necessary they would make the road wider to handle the king and his entourage. They would level the hills and valleys to make his path straight.
The people took their task very seriously, for they did not want to offend the king. Their cities were also cleaned, repaired and decorated. A visit from the king may not have been frequent so people wanted their community to look the best for their guest. Today it would be like how a city that is hosting the Olympic Games would prepare for the influx of tens of thousands of visitors; or how a city might prepare for the visit of the President of the United States or the Queen of England.
In Isaiah’s time such preparation may have required people from outside the city to be brought in to do any specialty work that needed to be done. Artisans and craftsmen & craftswomen of all kinds would travel to the city to do the work necessary. And of course, those of not so honest repute would also come.
Those who did not like their king and those who did not recognize him as their true king would come to do their mischief or to disrupt the celebration by any means.
One experience I had of preparing for a king, or at least a prince, was when my ship was ported in the Kingdom of Bahrain, is a sovereign state in the Persian Gulf.
The Bahraini Prince was an F-16 fighter pilot in the Royal Bahraini Air Force. His visit was very important in order to maintain good relations with the sovereign state. This sent the crew into a frenzy of preparation.
Protocol was reviewed as everyone was given their orders. A meal and reception were needed, so the cooks and the supply department hustled to set up the tables and chairs and make the meal. The officers busily prepared their dress uniforms and the rest of the crew was tasked with cleaning the ship, scrubbing the bulkheads and polishing everything made of brass.
For a week, we scrubbed and cleaned, and prepared our ship. Yet there were some in the ship’s company who either did not like the idea of hosting a foreign prince or just didn’t care for the pomp and preparation. These people did no work and sometimes even interfered with the jobs being done by being uncooperative.
For most of us though, our efforts were mostly busy work because only a select few were ever to meet the Prince or attend the banquet. A small group of officers, a U.S. ambassador and about 20 enlisted men from the mess acting as wait-staff, were the only people to invited. Many were disappointed and felt that all their work was in vain. Some of us watched from the weather decks of the ship, looking down on the blue and white stripped tents covering the banquet tables while other sailors stood guard around the pier. Our only view of the prince was from pictures taken by the ship’s photographer a week later.
We can see ourselves in the Word of God. We believe in the promise of God the Father to send His Son into the world. We believe the promise of the Son that whoever believes and is baptized shall be saved.
We were not there to see our Lord and Savior as he taught the people about his Father’s will and plan to rescue us from our demise. Only a select few actually ate and traveled with him or learned at his feet. Yet this does not make his visit in our world any less important to us.
The sacrifice of God’s only Son on the tree of death was for our benefit and our salvation. His death and resurrection from the grave was the final victory over sin, death and the devil. We are now inheritors of His kingdom. We are now the loyal subjects of His reign, not because we chose to be but because He chose us to be.
Through the Word of God, we are promised the return of the King of heaven and earth. When he returns, everyone will see him in his true glory, face to face. Therefore, how do we act as His people? How do we prepare for the coming of our King? How do we make the path straight for Him?
One option is that we do nothing. We can sit by and remain silent. We can let other people do all the work of proclaiming the good news of Christ’s salvation. Let them cry out in the wilderness that is our culture, society and world.
Another option is that we work actively against Christ and His kingdom. We can speak against God and profess the works of human origin and pride.
This preparation is not easy; it will require work against one who does not wish for us to see the coming of our Lord. The work of the Prince of Lies is never ending. It is such instances where one feels lost in a wilderness indeed. The prophet Isaiah realized this when he wrote:
‘A voice said, “Cry out!”
And I said, “What shall I cry?”
“All flesh is grass,
And all its loveliness is like the flower of the field.
The grass withers, the flower fades,
Because the breath of the Lord blows upon it;
Surely the people are grass.’ [Is 40:6–7]
We know our king will return but we don’t know the time or the day, so how do we act as his people? How do we prepare for the coming of our King? After all, we are nothing but grass that withers and flower that fades. How are we to make straight the path of our Lord?
We begin as God began with us. Through our baptism, we were given the faith of Christ through the Holy Spirit. It is at this point, where our path was made clear. Throughout our lives, we have altered that path through our sin.
We have made high mountains and deep valleys in our own iniquity. The path to our King has become narrow and worn in some places. Therefore, we must rebuild. We must take down those spiritual barriers that are blocking our path. For those deep holes of remorse and regret, we must fill with repentance and forgiveness.
Through our worship and praise, we keep the connection with our Lord. We do this when we gather in the presence of the Holy Spirit who guides us. When we falter, the regeneration of our faith through the forgiveness of sins in the body and blood of our Lord and Savior renews that highway to our King.
As we prepare spiritually, our physical lives are sanctified through the Spirit of God. Our proclamation comes from the true Word and it is that which warns our neighbors of their sin and gives them the hope in their true ruler and master who is coming on that last day.
Isaiah was a voice crying out, proclaiming the Advent of our King. John the Baptist was a voice crying out in the wilderness, proclaiming repentance for the forgiveness of sins and the arrival of our Messiah. It is now our turn to stand on the walls of this city called Earth and to cry out the coming of our King, Jesus Christ.
It is now our turn to prepare the way of the Lord, to make his paths straight.
Amen, Come Lord Jesus! Amen.