A voice says, “Cry out!” And I said, “What shall I cry?”
What shall we cry in this season of Advent? Advent is a season that makes us so aware of the peculiar place we followers of Christ occupy. The peculiar place we occupy is in this created world and in the kingdom to come. It is a peculiar place because it presents us with the challenge of balancing the sometimes-contradictory values of two different places. What shall we cry in this season of Advent? How do we give voice to this peculiar place?
I think this is just how Isaiah must be feeling this morning as the voice “cries out: ‘In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God.’”
This voice is not is not Isaiah’s voice but that of one of the heavenly attendants. Isaiah knows full well what follows is good news for a desperate people, but he is at a loss about how to relate it to a people who are oppressed by their anxiety and sense of insufficiency. It seems that the good news of comfort, justice, and eternal rest are just beyond the reach of their present comprehension – their ability to see them. If only they can get up higher or improve their view.
I think we too are, in many ways, afflicted with a similar shortsightedness. We are besieged, as were Isaiah’s people, before their exile. However, our adversary is a different kind of Babylon. Our Babylon includes the great marketing and social media empires of consumerism and self-infatuation that generate scads of anxiety about having it just right – the right gift, the right decorations, the right food, and the right opinion so that we fit in.
This subtle form of oppression causes us to begin to lose our authentic sense of identity in the face of its onslaught of anxiety and insecurity as we are assimilated by these empires.
Like our spiritual ancestors of Isaiah’s time, we struggle to see beyond our present circumstance in order to glimpse the future and eternal reality. Amid the noise and distraction it is difficult to glimpse the kingdom to come, especially when it is not clear when the kingdom will come. Sometimes it feels like we are left with a contradiction – the time is at hand. Oh, but not yet!
Followers of Christ have struggled with this contradiction for over two thousand years, and this struggle finds voice in Peter’s second letter as the author tries to calm the anxiety of his readers over the issue that the kingdom has not yet come. In this letter we are reminded of what sort of people we are to be – people of holiness – especially as we wait.
The adjective “holy” describes this state of holiness and devotion to God; however, we may give it too little thought and struggle to give expression to holy. So try these on for size:
- When something is holy, it belongs to God – as we do as a part of creation.
- When something is holy, it is complete – it has integrity, it is authentic, it is whole.
- When something is holy, it is beautiful – as we each are in God’s eyes.
- When something is holy, it is pure – as we become through baptism and the forgiveness of our sins.
- When something is holy, it is set apart and devoted to that which it seeks and desires – as we are through our baptism.
Simply stated, that which is holy is that which seeks and is beheld by God.
Still, there is no denying that the empires of marketing and social media are highly effective – they have honed their techniques to a science – playing upon our insecurities and diluting that which is our best and holiest – they make us feel less than whole.
So we followers of Christ are called to a different empire this Advent. Not to deny all that is going on about us, but simply to acknowledge the onslaught, and to seek a word or reflection that reminds us that Advent is a season for renewal and wholeness for our selves and our best efforts so that our joyous and eager expectations are for the gift of eternal life, rather than the gift of the year, which has a limited warranty.
What better way to break the spell of the marketing and social media empires than to immerse our selves in wonderful and outrageous stories that proclaim things that are hard to imagine. What better place to begin than “The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God”?
Notice, this story doesn’t begin in the marketplaces of Jerusalem or some other great city. It doesn’t even originate in the holiest inner sanctuary of the temple. No, this story of stories, with its excitement and anticipation comes out of the wilderness.
The wilderness as the place of origin for this message may sound peculiar to our ears, but as those who have spent time with the Old Testament may recognize, the wilderness is symbolic as a place of testing and the formation of God’s people. A place where we learn holiness, and a place of God’s saving acts.
Advent too is just such a place. It is a brief period that invites us to remember our holiness through reflection and preparation so that we can hear the voice that says, “Cry out!”
The central character in the beginning of this wonderful and outrageous story of Jesus Christ is a peculiar wild man named John; a man who doesn’t conform to social expectations, still he draws crowds because he appeals to their craving for spiritual authenticity.
In John, the evangelists find the personification of the faithful steward, one who is charged with preparing the way of the Lord. But this preparation does not end with Christ’s first coming. No, in fact the reason we hear such end-of-time readings each Advent is to remind us of Christ’s second coming and our baptismal charge to prepare the way for the Lord’s second coming. You and I are called to be the peculiar wild people of our generation – the holy people in the wilderness of the marketing and social media empires – preparing the way of the Lord so that “the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all people shall see it together.”
So, what shall we cry? We shall cry, “Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.”
 Isaiah 40:6a
 Ibid v. 3
 Mark 1:1
 Isaiah 40:5
 Mark 1:3b