Excerpted from My Soul Magnifies the Lord, an Advent Guide for Lectionary Year C from the North Carolina Council of Churches. This post contains the scripture passage, a brief commentary on the text, and a reflection on its application.
In the fifteenth year of the reign of Emperor Tiberius, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was ruler of Galilee, and his brother Philip ruler of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias ruler of Abilene, during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness. He went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, as it is written in the book of the words of the prophet Isaiah,
‘The voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
“Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight.
Every valley shall be filled,
and every mountain and hill shall be made low,
and the crooked shall be made straight,
and the rough ways made smooth;
and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.’
Imagine hearing about a person way out in the furthest reaches of society, prophesying that all would soon change in our world. A person that lives so far out that they are not dependent on the conveniences of society. You might wonder whether to trust this person and the message. We are familiar with urgent messages from the government, businesses, and leaders of all sorts, but it is jarring to hear such a message from one
without clout or title. It seems familiar though, knowing something of the life of Jesus and his radical influence despite being born in a lowly stable surrounded by animals.
This passage is another offering of non-institutional power, saying that all is going to change, and it will be of God. This passage is made up of preparation, urgency, and perspective while having double meanings and comparisons. Unlike the other Gospels, Luke is much more concerned with dates and the sequence of events. We see this in the first few verses with the naming of leaders. The list of rulers and structures of empire are in stark contrast to John the Baptist, who shows us what it means to be anti-empire. This is a deliberate message from Luke, who positions John as one who predicts the ability of Jesus to move beyond empire. With this lens, a reader can assume that the writer of Luke knew a great deal about leaders and systems of governing. Yet, here is one sent by God, who possesses more knowledge and influence than any humanly conceived seat of power listed in this passage. None of
Preparation is another theme introduced by Luke through John the Baptist, who proclaims the need for baptism and forgiveness of sins. “Prepare the way of the Lord,” is a bold announcement requiring action from his listeners. There is urgency in these words because God will soon be flesh. John serves as a connector between Isaiah and prophets of the Old Testament—all that was prophesied is now happening and we
must be ready
When I reflect on this passage, I keep returning to the idea of “Shalom.” Shalom is a Hebrew word and a theme that is centered on wholeness and, ultimately, peace. Shalom is the
The idea of Shalom goes well when preaching this passage, because, of course John the Baptist is urgent and steadfast—the Lord is coming! But ultimately, this passage stirs urgency because God enters and moves in all of our lives, disrupting and calming, offering Shalom. We are nourished by a God that cares for our wellbeing and, like John begs of us, we need to be awake to the possibilities of a life with God.
After all, we can be agents of Shalom. We can be co-creators of Shalom with the help of our God. We are supported by an active and living God, and our lives can help bring wholeness and peace to our communities and world. We are always preparing for our encounters with God so that we join the work of peace and dismantling empires.
~Jessica Stokes, PHW Regional Coordinator
In this week’s verses, Luke calls back to the prophet Isaiah by quoting “The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth, and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.’”
When I started to think about this reflection, I called my dad to discuss advent and this passage. As we talked, my dad mentioned that in college he had a religious studies professor that called this passage from Luke to Isaiah “as building a highway back home,” meaning it was a way of connecting the New Testament to the Old Testament. In other words, it was a way for Luke to connect people across history by reminding the people that Jesus is the one about whom the prophets spoke as the Messiah.
Immediately the phrase “highway back home” brought to mind the literal highway I will drive to come back home this holiday season. However, the more my dad and I talked, the more I started to think about the metaphorical highways that are the traditions my family uses to stay connected to the past
Advent is the season of preparation, and during that season we stand in between reflecting on the past year and looking forward to the future. We keep the past in mind as we participate in our traditions, but we anticipate the future with the birth of Jesus and the coming new year. Just like Luke quotes in the verses “prepare the way of the lord.”
~Elizabeth Brewington, Opioid Response Coordinator