He said, “I am the voice of one crying out
in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way
of the Lord,'” as the prophet Isaiah said.
–John 1:6-8, 19-28
It’s the third week of Advent and soon the “Word will become flesh.” We will hear the voice of an angel announce “peace on earth.” But let’s be clear, the pathway to peace is paved by the disruptive voice of the prophet.
Again this week we hear the voice of John the Baptist crying out in the wilderness. John the Baptist is not only speaking to highly charged hearts, he is speaking to a highly charged community fractured by radically unjust social, economic, and religious disparities. He draws his inspiration from the prophet Isaiah:
A voice cries out: “In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD, make straight in the desert a highway for our God. 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. Then the glory of the LORD shall be revealed, and all people shall see it together, for the mouth of the LORD has spoken. (Is. 40:3-5)
The prophet’s word induces a massive social and spiritual upheaval. Something big is being born along with the Messiah. The valleys of injustice and the mountains of oppression are being leveled so that ALL PEOPLE (not just some) can see the salvation of God.
It’s an audacious claim that is hard to believe given the uneven landscape (then and now). The modern prophet Martin Luther King Jr. echoed John the Baptist’s bold vision when he said, “The moral arc of the universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” Yes, even though it’s hard to see in the moment, God is flattening our world as well as our hearts. God is giving us a new reality. That’s the gospel promise! The barriers of false protection that pit us against each other and divide our own hearts are coming down like the Berlin Wall. Ultimately, as the apostle Paul says, God is creating a world in which “there is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3:28).
The Gospel is a divine leveling – a leveling of love. But here’s the catch! This leveling cannot be survived unless we are transformed by the love that levels us.
Those who have experienced the leveling of their own soul or participated in the leveling of unjust social barriers know firsthand how dangerous it can be when dividers are gone. Without the false protection these barriers provide, things become chaotic! That is why the Gospel of Jesus urgently insists that we clothe ourselves in love (not our favorite political, racial, or religious identity flag). Without love we will tear each other apart. Jesus knows that we simply cannot survive the divine leveling if we are not also given new hearts – the very thing he so eagerly gives. “I will remove from them their heart of stone and give them a heart of flesh” (Ez. 11:19).
For several years now I have prayed the Isaiah 40:3-5 passage daily (see Examen Prayer). I have witnessed firsthand the leveling of love and the slow but sure gifting of a new heart. It is without a doubt the most liberating and dangerous kind of love imaginable.
Word made flesh, giving hearts made flesh. Advent hope!