Advent is a time to prepare a path that will lead God right into our hearts.
Today we are going back to the ancient texts of Isaiah. This particular passage is the beginning of what is known as Second Isaiah. It was written by an anonymous writer some 50 years after Babylon invaded Judah and dragged her citizens into exile. Some 30 centuries later, this poetic prophecy provides God’s people with some words of hope and promise, as well as some basic instructions on how to be better prepare for Christmas.
READ: Isaiah 40:1-11
Like Second Isaiah pointed out, as the people sit in exile, they’ve had decades to think about the error of their ways. This poetic song begins like a scene in a movie where a criminal stands before the parole board who judge him. It’s up to him to defends himself - showing his remorse and a penitent heart. Whatever he is guilty of, he has done his time and he believes he deserves to be freed.
God’s people were guilty for sure. They had turned away from God, putting their trust in earthly powers. They believed God was punishing them by abandoning them to the hands of their enemy. But in reality, they were the one’s who abandoned God.
As they plead for mercy and salvation God sends hopeful words of comfort through this prophetic voice: “Comfort my people…she has served her penalty…received double for all her sins…A voice cries out, ‘In the wilderness, prepare the way of the Lord.’”
Twenty years ago, Kathleen and I went to Costa Rica, a country known for its coffee and woodworking. As we passed through a little remote village, we stopped at artisan workshop where we found this sculpture carved into an old coffee root. It’s a one-of-a-kind nativity set that I love to show off during Advent.
Granted, it’s not your typical holiday decoration. There’s no glitter, or glue. No fancy bows. At first you might not even recognize it as a nativity scene but a piece of art that sits atop our piano. Which is precisely why we don’t pack it away with the rest of the decorations. Instead, it stays out all year long to remind me that Christmas isn’t a once a year event. Christ doesn’t just come around on Christmas Day, but on Boxing Day, and Valentine’s Day, and Tuesday and every other day.
In our house, this nativity stands out like a voice crying out in the wilderness, preparing the way of the Lord. When I look at this simple work of art, I can see the creative imagination of God at work, sculpting each one of us unique and exquisite. Just as the root is the source of life to the plant, God is our source life – nurturing us and grounding us so we can grow and produce the fruits of God’s kingdom.
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Moreover, when I look at this sculpture, I see Joseph and am reminded of who I am as a father – to my kids and everyone else’s. Jesus was not his son. Yet Joseph chose to welcome Jesus into his heart and home. He chose to look after Jesus and protect him, even though he had no obligation to do so. Joseph was faithful to God, whose “word endures forever.”
Then there’s Mary, who reminds me that we are all called to be Mothers of Christ if for no other reason than Christ is always in need of being born. Mary teaches me how to live in the tension between my present circumstances and the promise of God.
As a pregnant teenage girl, Mary had much to be afraid of. What would people think? What shame would she bring upon her family? Would Joseph be there for her? Would her baby live? Yet she remained faithful to God’s promise. When her family narrowly escaped Herod’s genocide and was forced to live as refugees in a foreign land, Mary’s faithfulness in God stood firm. And then, at the foot of the cross, crushed by a pain no mother should have to bear, Mary trusted God whose “word endures forever.”
And of course, there’s the baby lying in the manger. It’s a universal image of Christmas that’s so familiar that we forget God chose to come to us in human weakness. This simple and familiar portrayal of Jesus reminds me of my own vulnerability and weakness; and my need to rely on something greater than myself.
When I see this baby, I also remember that I too am a beloved child of God; swaddled in unconditional and steadfast love of the One whose word endures forever. More importantly, when I see Jesus in this hand-carved wooden manger my mind sees him on another wooden structure and I think about the sacrifice he made for my behalf.
A wooden cross or a wooden statue, I am reminded that all things are finite, but God’s Word endures forever. And so, we leave it out to remind ourselves of the incarnate promise that is made manifest day-after-day and year-after-year.
The more I think about it, Advent is our reminder that God is not finished with us. As we wait for God’s plan to unfold, we wait with purpose. Preparing the way for Christ to come, by preparing our hearts and hands to be faithful like his. To quote St. Paul, “The only thing that matters is faith expressing itself in love” (Galatians 5:6)
We prepare the way of the Lord in all the ways we love - bringing hope to the hopeless and forgiveness the unforgivable. As Jesus taught us, we proclaim God’s promise of peace, by being peacemakers. We prepare the path of righteousness with consistent and steady footsteps; walking humbly, loving freely, and fighting for justice for all people.
Advent is a time to remember that Christ not only came to be with us, but to be in us - to reveal God’s glory so that “all people shall see it together.”
This is what it means to be the church, the visible witness crying out in the wilderness – preparing the way for the one more powerful than us. As the psalmist sung, “Righteousness shall go before him, and peace shall be a pathway for his feet” (Psalm 85:13).
Where righteousness and peace are practiced, God is present.
Advent is a time to prepare a path that will lead God right into our hearts! So as we wait, let us participate in the coming of our Lord by tuning our ear to the voices crying out for mercy. And by opening our hands to touch others in need of human tenderness.
Let us go out into the world to meet Christ by being little Christ in the world. For when Christ is alive in each one of us, then Christ will always be present, not just on Christmas Day but every day.
An ex-copywriter turned punk rock pastor and peacemaker who dedicates his life to making the world a better place for all humanity.
"that they all might be one" ~John 17:21
“Prius vita quam doctrina.”
~ St. Thomas Aquinas (1225–1274)
* “Life is more important than doctrine.”