3 A voice cries out:
“In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord,
make straight in the desert a highway for our God.
4 Every valley shall be lifted up,
and every mountain and hill be made low;
the uneven ground shall become level,
and the rough places a plain.
5 Then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed,
and all people shall see it together,
for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”
When Luke first introduces John the Baptist in the third chapter of his Gospel, John is quoting these verses of Isaiah.
In Isaiah 40:1-2 (right before this passage), the prophet reports that God is telling Jerusalem that she has paid her dues—in other words, that the Babylonians are leaving and the Israelites can come back from their captivity.
Many who heard this quote coming out of John’s mouth might have heard the implied context and decided he was also predicting the liberation of Jerusalem (in a way that wouldn’t get him in trouble with any non-Jewish Romans, nudge nudge wink wink).
Yet Jesus made it clear by the time he was crucified that he was not a military leader. So if the Messiah John was proclaiming wasn’t there to liberate Jerusalem, what do the above quoted verses mean? And do they have any relevance to us now?
It’s easy to read these three verses as one long command, a kind of highway construction checklist: make a straight road, make it level, fill in the ruts, even out the grade—and if you do all these things, God’s glory will be revealed. But actually, only the first verse is a command: “In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD, make straight in the desert a highway for our God.” The rest is a prediction, more like, “If you build it, they will come,” from the movie Field of Dreams.
If you prepare the way of the Lord in the wilderness, everything will be turned on its head. Mountains will be leveled and valleys will rise up. Uneven places will be evened out and rough places will be flattened.
If I view this as a metaphor instead of a literal infrastructure assignment, I have to agree. When I feel like I’m wandering in the wilderness, if I welcome God into my life, God has a habit of turning things topsy-turvy. Things I thought were really important turn out to be pretty silly, and things I hadn’t been paying attention to turn out to be very important. Obstacles I thought were huge seem to melt away. Tasks I thought would be fun or worth my while sometimes become impossible.
And verse 5 doesn’t conclude, as you might after reading that paragraph, “And boy is that gonna suck.” (Whole lives turned upside down? That doesn’t sound fun!) Instead, this will result in revealing God’s glory. To everyone.
Many people I know don’t believe in God (or at least my flavor of God) and don’t really know what God’s glory would look like. I’m not even sure what God’s glory would look like myself. But here’s an idea.
Honestly, I’ve been wandering around in a creative drought for many months now. I’m stalled halfway through revising the fourth draft of my memoir. I’ve been doing all the right things—talking to a therapist regularly and doing some really hard work around difficult events in my childhood, working with an executive coach to set and achieve priorities, trying to get medications and sleep and nutrition working as well as I can, getting regular acupuncture, signing up for a writing class with one of my favorite authors… you get the idea.
This all should be working, right? It’s not.
Finally I’ve thrown up my hands in despair, quit phone games cold turkey (because yes, it was really embarrassing how many hours a day I spent playing them, and I was actually addicted like alcoholics are to alcohol), looked at God, and said, “Dude. What the hell. I’m miserable and I don’t know why. Apparently whatever I was trying to do isn’t working. So here’s a highway into my heart. If you need me to give up the damn memoir, I will—I mean, I’m clearly not making any physical progress on it these days. Here you go. Come on in.”
God did NOT send me a voice. Sometimes I really wish God would, but then again, if you read the prophets, having God’s voice in your head and coming out of your mouth does not sound like a picnic. (If I ever doubt this, I have a great icon of Jonah that sets me straight.) Instead, God sent me a series of nudges.
- Sermons from our new rector, resonating with me in ways I bet she never even suspected.
- Hearing the same thing one professional had been telling me for months from another professional who himself has ADHD.
- A couple of humorous suggestions from a fellow mom in my moms group (but after we laughed, I thought, Hmmm).
- A gentle and wise point from my husband.
- A call to action in a church service that had me saying yes to a vestry member so fast it made both our heads spin.
- A sudden desire to write meditations on Scripture passages during the season of Advent. You know, those meditation things that are somehow way easier for me to write than the book that’s been breaking my heart for more than eight years.
The topsy-turvy thing is starting. That means that some things I was finding enjoyable suddenly… aren’t. So that’s annoying. But I’m also starting to feel a little hope. There seems to be a little traction. The rut I felt stuck in seems to be, dare I say, leveling out.
I’m not sure the results are going to wow the world, including all my agnostic and atheist friends, with the glory of God, but hey, at this point, I’d just settle for not feeling stuck in the desert.