Luke 3: 1-6
In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar—when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, Herod tetrarch of Galilee, his brother Philip tetrarch of Iturea and Traconitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene— during the high-priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness. He went into all the country around the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. As it is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet:
“A voice of one calling in the wilderness,
‘Prepare the way for the Lord,
make straight paths for him.
Every valley shall be filled in,
every mountain and hill made low.
The crooked roads shall become straight,
the rough ways smooth.
And all people will see God’s salvation.’”
The Gospel writers knew a thing or two about subtlety and subversive messaging. They were arguably more intelligent and insightful than the majority of their readers. We could be inclined to skim-read verses 1-2 of this passage, silently imploring Luke to get to the point. But we’d be missing something. As well as situating us in the timeframe in which we need to be, Luke is also subtly undermining the systems of this world. He is telling us that someone greater than our kings and rulers is coming to straighten the paths and smooth out the roads. This leader will be contrasted with our human leaders; will be outside the boxes and systems by which we identify ourselves and one another.
Our worldly systems can become, paradoxically, equally chaotic and comfortable. God actively calls us into the wilderness, where we are away from the noise and the chaos, but also the desired distractions and the comfort. Silence can be scary, but it can also be more revelatory than the loudest of voices. Advent is symbolically the wilderness. It is a time of confusion and waiting, but there is oh-so-much hope. And so much to learn. What are we waiting for? Do we even know?
In this passage we see, at least metaphorically, what we’re waiting for. Smooth and level roads, where all people are on the same playing field. In our world, there are winners and losers. There are those of us whom the structures and hierarchies have benefitted, and those whom the same systems have oppressed. In God’s version of reality, this is not the case. God’s vision is radically different to ours. The last become first and the first become last. The in-group are afraid of this new way because they will lose power. The out-group are afraid of the new way because they have become comfortable with the system. We all understand the system. We might fight it, but we fight within its boundaries.
However, Luke says ‘all people will see God’s salvation.’ All people. Jesus came to Earth to do the humanly impossible: to show us that we are all equally loved and cherished by the Divine. Essentially, Jesus came to permit the people at the end to come to the front; to skip the queue. How does that make us feel? We might feel like the workers in the field in Matthew 20:1-6, who feel that Jesus’ way is unjust: “we did more, and they get the same pay? How can this be fair?” But God entered our world to fill in every valley, lower every hill and mountain, and straighten and smooth out every road. It won’t look the same, but that’s the whole point. It looks like one united humanity, loved by God. This Advent, let’s wait together for a world that embraces the new way. And let’s listen for the voice in the wilderness - what might it be saying?
Katie is an aspiring writer, an eternal intern, and a passionate Jesus-Feminist. With a Master’s in International Development and a Bachelors in Sociology and French, she is qualified for ... making lattes and pulling pints (skills that she has put to great use). She recently returned to Ireland after working in New York and studying in Edinburgh.