Having surveyed the mess around us, the next step is asking who is going to do something about it? Who is going to step up and clear away the rubble? Who is going be a part of the clean- up crew? Who is ready to work?
You feel like that sometimes, don’t you? You feel that no one is listening; no one is responding. You keep issuing the invitation, but it often lies unattended in the midst of the people of God. We aren’t even sure anyone even heard the call.
We like to know we are being heard. We desire two-way communication, which means, of course, that we must learn to listen as well as to speak. And maybe, we should listen more than we speak. What is that old saying? God gave us two ears and one mouth.
Advent isn’t really about communication, yet when you read the passages for this week, you can’t help but hear that theme underneath. The proclamation is, in part, about hearing and being heard.
“The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: 'Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight’” (Mark 1:3). John appears every Advent to remind us that we haven’t been paying enough attention. He shouts to wake us up. He dresses oddly to capture our fascination. He storms up and down the riverbank, asking us to take the plunge. He doesn’t seem to be here to listen. He is here to talk, to announce, to shout — a one-way communication, you would think.
Except John is asking for something from us. He is asking us to join the road crew. We’ve got streets to level and curves to straighten. Whether we think in personal terms about cleaning up our own hearts and bodies, straightening out our behavior patterns; or in communal terms of justice and anti-racism as we make straight the pathways to wholeness that have bent in ways that keep certain people out – either way, there is work to be done. A response needs to be made. John wants us to be participants in our own salvation; the one who comes doesn’t overwhelm us, doesn’t transform us against our will. We are partners, contributors in the conversation of hope and transformation.
Yet, some will argue, it is all about marching to the tune of the one in charge. Right? It is not about conversation; it is about obedience. It is about following orders. Get to work; clean this up; take care of that; do this; don’t do that, and on and on and on. That is hardly a two-way street, some argue. This is the Lord’s highway we are straightening. And we all know that it is the Lord’s way or the highway! Right?
Not according to Isaiah. We have to get the whole picture. This conversation doesn’t begin with Jesus or with John. It began long before that. Jesus was a response. Listen to this: Comfort, O comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that she has served her term, that her penalty is paid, that she has received from the LORD's hand double for all her sins (40:1-2).
Get you up to a high mountain, O Zion, herald of good tidings; lift up your voice with strength, O Jerusalem, herald of good tidings, lift it up, do not fear; say to the cities of Judah, "Here is your God!" See, the Lord GOD comes with might, and his arm rules for him; his reward is with him, and his recompense before him. He will feed his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms, and carry them in his bosom, and gently lead the mother sheep (40:9-11).
God heard the cry, and now comes with a response. God has listened and now speaks, and the word God speaks is Jesus. Oh, that wasn’t the word that the first hearers of Isaiah’s words heard. They heard home. The people of God were in exile, cut off from the land they loved, the land that God had promised to them, the land where God took up residence. They felt alone, cast adrift in an unfeeling, uncaring world. They cried out to God; they confessed that they had forgotten to live as God’s people and were now paying the price. Their society had begun to cater to power and influence and wealth, and many suffered because of it. They forgot to look out for the ones on the margins, and now they were all on the margins. The systems in which they had placed their trust no longer were strong enough to support the life they took for granted. So, they cried out. And God heard.
And God will bring them home —not necessarily to the home that they envisioned, but to the home that God envisions—the community that God calls us to create. The relationships that fulfill us and connect us—this is the home we seek, all of us. And it is the home we find in Jesus. The child in the manger and the savior on the cross speak of home to us. Home is where we are loved and healed and heard.
The glory of Christmas is that while there is a silent night, there is a need to listen and to shut out the distracting noise of the world and our own brokenness, it is fundamentally a dialog. The Lord’s highway is a two-way street. Our call is to listen and to respond. To announce, to proclaim. To make way: Get you up to a high mountain, O Zion, herald of good tidings; lift up your voice with strength, O Jerusalem, herald of good tidings, lift it up, do not fear; say to the cities of Judah, "Here is your God!"
Company’s coming, and so we need to make ready. We need to make ourselves ready, make our world ready, for the one who comes to lead us home. The joy is that we get to be a part of the clean-up crew. This isn’t a menial task; this is the glory of the Lord. This is a sign that we are those who know that company is coming and we want to be ready. We want to be inclusive. We want to be hosts for the one and the ones who come. Get to work; company’s coming.