Thursday, December 14, 2017

Self-Identification #2

Yesterday, I wrote about John the Baptist's response to those who wanted to know what he had to say for himself. When asked to justify his peculiar, wilderness ministry, John replied, quoting Isaiah 40, "I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, 'Make straight the way of the Lord.'" In other words, the Baptizer (and those who retold his story) understood his relationship with Jesus to be about preparing for the coming of the Lord and the great leveling of all things that comes with him.

It's hard to read the first lesson for Sunday from Isaiah 64 and not be reminded of another moment in the gospel when Jesus describes his own ministry. It might not be fair to borrow from Luke on a Sunday when we are reading from John, but, when Jesus picks up a scroll in the synagogue and reads these words from the prophet, he announces that they have been fulfilled in the congregation's hearing. These words proclaiming that anointed-one being is being sent to bring the good news of release and healing to God's people are the words that Jesus uses to define his ministry, which means they go hand in hand with those that John the Baptist uses for himself.

Perhaps it's fair for us to make the comparison since Isaiah used both the leveling of the rough places from chapter 40 and the lifting up of the downtrodden from chapter 64 to describe the day of the Lord. John the Baptist is laying down an eight-lane expressway through the wilderness so that Jesus the anointed-one can come speedily and bring release, recovery, and comfort to God's people. The question for us is whether that leveling means the arrival of good news or bad news.

The Lord is coming. The Lord is bringing relief to those who have suffered. The Lord will bind up those who are brokenhearted. The Lord will set free those who are imprisoned. But the leveling of the rough places means the elimination of the obstacles to that reorientation. It means the impediments (literally the "foot-obstacles") along the road are removed. Advent is about preparing for the coming of the Lord by discerning ways in which we wait for the good news and the ways in which we stand in its way.

Hear the words of Isaiah as they come into focus this season. We are not only preparing for a birth in Bethlehem but for the transformation of the world that Jesus' birth represents--a transformation that continues to take place and that reaches its fulfillment at the coming of the Lord. Are we ready for the kind of world that Isaiah envisioned? Are our expectations for the anointed-one based on God's hope for the world? Or are we pretending that God's dreams will conform to our own?

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