A voice crying out in the wilderness (Luke 3:4) is quite a contrast to the cacophony of this season, when the noise, tasks, and temptations around us can be overwhelming. Somehow, it breaks through the clutter and reminds us why the Advent season exists in the first place, and why it matters. It brings new life, not only Jesus’ birth but ultimately his sacrifice for the rest of us, forgiving our sins and giving us salvation. Although anchored in a particular time and place, it is both a timeless and hopeful message.
The wilderness metaphor also contrasts with the distress of the world reflected in last week’s passage, whether that refers to natural or “man-made” disasters. Instead, it suggests a purity, calmness and cleanliness—even peace and quiet—which causes us to pause, catch our breath, and reflect. Specifically, the voice calls us to:
“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 smooth;”
I picture John the Baptist standing on a hilltop, surveying the landscape before him, which includes a winding river below. The silence is deafening. Although imperceptible at a distance, the water is constantly in motion, wearing down the jagged edges of the earth, stones, and rocks over which it flows and bringing new life to places downstream. As it passes by, it also cleanses and heals, preparing “all flesh [to] see the salvation of God.” (Luke 3:6)
And so, much like Luke situates his story “in the fifteenth year of…,” we are called in our own time and place to step back from the fray and make way for new beginnings. While worldly leaders come and go, the passing of George H.W. Bush this week causes us to reflect on a kinder, gentler time in our recent history. There were certainly serious disagreements at that time too, but it is a reminder that we can come together as a nation and with other nations to address momentous issues ranging from the AIDS epidemic, rights of people with disabilities, and an end to the Cold War—leading us back to peace and ultimately justice.
If we could do it then, we as the church of Jesus Christ can do it now, not allowing ourselves to be distracted or deterred by bends or bumps in the road. As the stars shine brightly above us this week and remind us of that starry, silent night in Bethlehem more than two millennia ago, let us come together as thousands of points of light. And in this Advent season, let’s pray for what really matters—the rest is just noise.