Advent Reflection: Isaiah 40
A voice of one calling: “In the wilderness prepare the way for the Lord; make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be raised up, every mountain and hill made low; the rough ground shall become level, the rugged places a plain. And the glory of the Lord will be revealed, and all people will see it together." (Isaiah 40:3-5)
When John the Baptist explained his role he quoted Isaiah 40. John was clear in his role as pointer, decreaser and preparer of the way. He was the “voice” calling in the wilderness, proclaiming the news that the King was coming. And he was the manager for a great highway project that prepared his way.
It’s awesome to see ancient marble roads in Ephesus, Rome, Beth Shean and Athens. But between the ancient cities, the the trade routes or “wagon roads” were sometimes impassable.
There is recorded the story of a vassal king who complained to the king of Mari that he had to arrive at the Syrian capital by a roundabout route along a major highway. Assyrian kings rarely boasted of their road constructions as it appeared to be the duty of the local populations. In a treaty text Esarhaddon commands that when his son succeeds him the vassal must submit to him and “smooth his way in every respect.”*
Imagine the mountains, rough ground and rugged places as the ruts of the dirt road in the Near East that had to be staked out, leveled and consistently maintained for travel, especially of a large entourage of a king.
Isaiah describes the king as the Lord himself. Yahweh is coming to his people. No longer abandoned in exile, the Lord is returning to his people along the desert road, back to Jerusalem. John tells us the king coming from the wilderness is Jesus.
This is my Son with whom I am well pleased. Emmanuel, God with us. The Word became flesh. Born in the town of David, a Savior. The Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.
From Elizabeth’s womb John leaps for joy in Jesus’ presence (Luke 1:44) and when asked about Jesus’ popularity John says, “You yourselves can testify that I said, ‘I am not the Messiah but am sent ahead of him.’ The bride belongs to the bridegroom. The friend who attends the bridegroom waits and listens for him, and is full of joy when he hears the bridegroom’s voice. That joy is mine, and it is now complete. He must become greater; I must become less.” (John 3:28-30)
Joy at Christmas comes from our pointing, decreasing and preparing for Jesus’ coming. What needs to be staked out, leveled and maintained for us to see, show others and enjoy the glory of the Lord at Christmas?
I beg of you, my Lord,
To remove anything which separates
Me from you, and you from me.
Remove anything that stands in the way of
My seeing you, hearing, tasting, savoring, and touching you;
Reverencing and being mindful of you;
Knowing, trusting, loving and possessing you;
Being conscious of your presence
And, as far as possible, enjoying you.
This is what I ask for myself
And earnestly desire from you. Amen.
--based on a 16th century prayer
* (IVP Bible Background Commentary: Old Testament)