Making Straight and Smoothing Out
A voice of one crying out in the desert:
“Prepare the way of the Lord,
make straight his paths.
Every valley shall be filled
and every mountain and hill shall be made low.
The winding roads shall be made straight,
and the rough ways made smooth,
and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.”
Recently I was discussing this Scripture passage for the upcoming second Sunday in Advent with a group of women. One of them asked what it means that valleys should be filled and mountains made low. She was wondering if it means that basically God will make our lives easier.
I do not necessarily think this passage (from Isaiah and quoted in Luke’s gospel this week) is about our lives in general becoming easier. The quote references the exiled Israelites returning to Jerusalem, the holy city; and the entirety of the Gospel passage is about John the Baptist as the “voice crying out in the desert.” Many of the classic images of John show him pointing to Jesus.
So, I think, for us, the passage means that in Jesus, we have “the Way” that makes straight our path to God, and John is reminding us to put our feet on the path. He points out that when we choose to act as Jesus did, our way to God is easier: smoother and straighter.
I realize I have spent many an Advent trying to realign myself with God, to get firmly on that path by being better and more disciplined about prayer, or by trying to stay more focused on God’s presence in my life in relationships and family and the season and church and darkness and light. And on and on.
And that is fine and good.
But today, in reflecting on the reading, I began to consider John’s role for the first time.
It is fun and a little interesting to try to imagine what a John the Baptist figure might look like today. He certainly seems eccentric enough (animal skins, honey, locusts, etc.) that we could imagine not paying much attention, or even avoiding him, if he dropped out of history onto a local street corner.
But people DID pay attention. So what would a prophetic voice pointing people toward the path to God look like today or in my life? Even more, how should I be a prophetic voice pointing others toward the path to God? Could I begin to level the valleys and smooth out the rough ways to God for someone even?
And, of course, the answer is, “yes.” There are plenty of times in a day or week that I could help Joshua come closer to God. After fourteen years of marriage, I know him well enough to know exactly when some space alone or some time in quiet prayer is just what he most needs – AND just what he will least ask for — because he would never presume to create a heavier load for me around the house or with children. But I can offer it.
When I shared this with the other women, one of them said she thought that as a mother she could “level valleys and smooth rough ways” more by working on herself. By cultivating more peace in herself she could create a better, easier space in her home for her children. And thus a smoother approach to Christmas.
There is often increased tension and anxiety in households as we prepare for Christmas – more mountains and valleys and more crooked paths than at other times of the year maybe. The season of Advent is a beautiful counterpoint to the busy-ness by providing us an opportunity again each year to make sure we are on the right path to draw closer to God. But in marriage and family life it isn’t just about us. It is also an opportunity to make it easier for those most dear to us to draw closer to God as well.