A voice is crying out: Clear the Lord’s way in the desert! Make a level highway in the wilderness for our God!
Isaiah 40:1-11 – The Second Sunday of Advent – for Sunday, December 7, 2014
“A voice is crying out: Clear the Lord’s way in the desert! Make a level highway in the wilderness for our God!” (Isaiah 40:3)
Some say, fervent and sure in their beliefs, that Isaiah predicted a voice in the future: a John the baptizer that would cry aloud in the literal wilderness, a harbinger for Jesus’ ministry.
Some say, fervent and sure in their beliefs, that Isaiah was not predicting a some-day future of John and Jesus, but shouting an every-day truth in the metaphoric wilderness: a longing for God to transform a wounded world.
Either way, when modern hearts and minds read Isaiah’s ancient cries, there is a belief that from the wild, from beyond our safe homes and familiar streets, a change will come.
American poet, Mary Oliver penned,
Ordinarily, I go to the woods alone, with not a single friend, for they are all smilers and talkers and therefore unsuitable.
I don’t really want to be witnessed talking to the catbirds or hugging the old black oak tree. I have my way of praying, as you no doubt have yours.
Besides, when I am alone I can become invisible. I can sit on the top of a dune as motionless as an uprise of weeds, until the foxes run by unconcerned. I can hear the almost unhearable sound of the roses singing.
If you have ever gone to the woods with me, I must love you very much.
The second Sunday of Advent has arrived. Come walk with me into the woods, in the wilderness of yesterday’s Isaiah and today’s faith . . . but only if you are not one of the “smilers and talkers and therefore unsuitable.”
I suspect the first listeners of Isaiah hoped to escape the fearsome, dangerous wild places for the security of the cities. We moderns must flip the ancient fears and spend time in wild places. Isaiah called for a highway in the wilderness. Me? Let’s keep a few bumpy trails, please.
And so, for a few words and moments, come walk with me into the woods. On this second Sunday of Advent, leave behind the false smiles and clever talking; leave behind the time-wasting toys that break and the tempting treasures that inevitably lose their value.
Or maybe you prefer the grins and chatter, the toys and treasures . . .
But, then, I have “my way of praying, as you no doubt have yours.”
* * *
Once I tramped alone to lake called Royal Arch, miles south of the sublime Yosemite Valley, into the glorious granite heart of the Sierra wilderness. It was in autumn, with days short and nights long. The official season of Advent—the season of new beginnings—was still weeks and weeks away. And yet this sojourn into the woods represented an advent time for my longing.
I hoisted all I needed on my back: tent, food, and sleeping bag. I also carried a question. It was the heaviest part of my gear.
Do you carry questions? Do you wonder? Do you dream? Do you hope? Do you—like Isaiah, like John, like Jesus—long for the wild notion of God’s mercy and peace?
This was my weighty before-Advent and in-the-midst-of-an-Adventure question: was it time to leave a church? Was it time to leave a full-time, pension-accumulating, form-filling-out ministry? Was it time to try something new? What was God calling me to do? The same? The next? The known? The unknown?
Sometimes I pray while walking. Sometimes I pray while sweating. Sometimes I pray while remaining silent. This may not be your way, but however you pray, don’t you have questions too?
I didn’t wait to hear a divine voice around the shore of Royal Arch. I erected my nylon shelter. I organized food. I collected twigs and fallen branches for fire and warmth. I rested my weary, trail-trodden feet.
Did I hear God, like Isaiah or John, calling me to change? There was no bellow of thunder or crack of lightning. There was no specific answer in the whisper of the winds that caressed the mountain lake. And yet I was still enough, unfettered enough, and far enough away from trivial and seductive distractions, to sense—to believe—that something was luring me away from the safe past and toward an unknown future.
Advent, the season of birth, is also the season of listening. On the second Sunday of Advent, where do you allow yourself, as Mary Oliver implored, to “hear the almost unhearable sound of the roses singing?”
I sauntered into the woods, alone, and yet not alone. I had two ears and a wide-open heart. I carried a precious wondering, an Advent question. Was it time to change?
What is your question? Is it time to marry (or not marry)? Time to have a child (or not have a child)? Is it time to recognize your doubts represent a new path? Is it time to realize the dreams that unsettle your sleep (and maybe your waking hours) are nudging you toward different directions? Is it time to question why you anxiously want nothing to change and avoid questions about your future or faith?
At Royal Arch, I gave myself time to listen, to have the old burdens become a new blessing. Advent is not just one season, but is part of every season of life that matters.
I need wild questions, and wild places. What about you?