Advent confronts us with stern and frightening images as well as seemingly impossible hope while we prepare for the birthday that sets all others in its orbit. This time of premature celebrating (Christmas parties in Advent?) brings difficulty for many. One of the writers in Homily Service in 2005 made note of that.
There are those who find this season to be particularly painful or lonely or stressful. It can be a difficult holiday road. As one person said, “Once Thanksgiving ends, I just want to get to New Year's Day and be done with it.”
But the Advent road takes us on a different journey. Not just preparations for Christmas, but a path leading to a life of integrity and purpose.
When the Israelite people are living in exile and filled with disappointment and despair, the prophet Isaiah announces hope to them. He tells them to build a superhighway across the desert. This road will lead them home. . . .
“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 made low . . . Then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed…” (Isaiah 40:3–5a).
An engineer who has firsthand experience with road construction explained the process of “balancing the cut and fill.” If you're able to take dirt from a hill and put it in a valley, you don't have to borrow it from somewhere else. These are the best kinds of road projects—when the “cut and fill” is balanced.
John the Baptist is our crew manager, bidding us to do some baptismal road construction, that is, living our faith in the world. The valleys of despair are to be filled in with hope. The mountains of arrogance and the hills of selfishness need to be leveled. The uneven ground of materialism, and the rough places of hatred and injustice need to be smoothed over. Our baptism calls us to do this road work in our jobs, our families, our communities. Through politics, through church, through giving of our resources.
– Craig M. Mueller
And, as befits this roadwork, the Gospel reading on this Second Sunday of Advent gives us the Baptizer. John’s prophesies about the one for whom the roads are leveled and valleys raised up.
Mark begins his gospel, the good news of Jesus Christ, not with a birth narrative but with the preaching of John the Baptist. By placing John the Baptist within the setting of the prophecy of Isaiah (although the quote is actually a compilation of Isaiah 40:3, Exodus 23:20 and Malachi 3:1) and giving him clothing and food like that of Elijah, Mark places John the Baptist, and thereby the story of Jesus, in the continuation of God's unfolding plan. That plan began at creation, continued through the prophets, found its climax in Jesus and will continue after the resurrection in the lives of the readers until the end of time when the Son of Man will come again.
– Carrie Lewis La Plante
To people without hope, people living under the oppression of terrorists, the prophet urges patience and hope. The end of exile is near.
Having lived under Babylonian rule for nearly sixty years, the people need the promise that deliverance will come. The prophet does not leave them with only the image of coming salvation but gives them an immediate task: “Cry out!” From the highest mountain, the people are to shout to all the cities that, transient as life is, God power is sure and certain to give them their freedom, return them to their home, and establish their lives once again in safety.
I leave you with a question meant to tie these readings and our preparations throughout Advent into a whole that looks for and relishes the assurance of God’s hand at work in our lives. Perhaps this question can prompt your thinking on this day, dear preacher. God be with you.
As we step up into pulpit or ambo, or as we step out into the midst of the assembly to preach, what God do we proclaim? When, with Isaiah, we say “here is your God” to whom or to what do we point? How in liturgy and architecture is this image of God expressed—at the font, table, and cross? In stained glass or icon? In majesty or humbleness of space?
– E. Byron Anderson
Carrie Lewis La Plante is pastor of Redeemer Lutheran Church in Indianola, Iowa.
Craig M. Mueller is pastor of Holy Trinity Lutheran Church, Chicago, Illinois.
E. Byron Anderson is the Ernest and Bernice Styberg Professor of Worship and the Director of the Nellie B. Ebersole Program in Music Ministry at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary in Evanston, Illinois.
Homily Service 39, no. 1 (2005): 3-14.