Prepare the Way: December 1, 2020

Prepare the Way!

“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.”
-Isaiah 40:4

I have to admit, this was a challenging reflection for me to write. To gain a better understanding of this short passage, I took time to reflect on several commentaries on the book of Isaiah. One of the more common interpretations of this passage is that it speaks to each of us as individuals and (metaphorically) tasks us with reflecting on our “rough places” to better prepare for the Lord. This makes sense- use prayer to reflect on our day to day interactions and make the rough places easier to travel.

A second interpretation (one that holds more hope for me right now), is that these words point to the power of the Lord as he observes the current state of the world, nation, and communities. I am certain that the Lord is not surprised, and it is a comfort that in his time, in his way, injustices in the world (uneven ground) and obstacles (mountains) are not beyond his reach. It is easy to feel powerless (and yet still want to be responsible) in the face of the pandemic, political divisions, and economic challenges we face. I take comfort in knowing that we don’t face these circumstances alone.

Lord, I ask that you give me eyes to see your work in the world around me, in small and great things. I ask you to calm my mind so that I can experience gratitude for your hand in the affairs of each day. Amen.
-Lara Cole

Prepare the Way: November 30, 2020

Prepare the Way!

“A voice cries out ‘In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God.’”
-Isaiah 40:3

During the 33 years I lived in Texas, I felt like a lone crier in the wilderness often during election season. At times, literal loss of voice befell me as I spoke up loudly for issues and the rights of our society’s marginalized—which often included myself. The church of my youth may as well have left me for dead. Thankfully, I no longer feel alone.

As a boy, I was taught to stick up for other kids being mistreated or bullied. What a wonderful and necessary practice! The only problem was that I was being mistreated. I was different and I knew it; unfortunately, the other little boys who bullied me knew it, too. Worst was the shame I felt when confiding in my parents the powerlessness to fight back. Peace is tough stuff, and in my experience, especially so for those who are different. The Others. The Less-Than. Thankfully, I was blest with words far larger than fists, and eventually, I grew courageous enough to use them.

Every day I’m still grateful that I found safe places to belong: music, the library, our vegetable garden. A life today without any of those three is simply unimaginable. Without drama, I can truthfully say they saved my life, and many times at that. After years of learning with several loving spiritual guides and one heaven-sent psychotherapist, I understand that the pain was never about me, but rather the brokenness of my attackers. Thankfully, the source of despair became a source of love and hope.

We’re not told everything will ever be perfect—or even comfortable. But scripture reminds us that there is a way through that comes from God. Our faithfulness to the call of preparation is holy construction work, ceaselessly building roads and bridges to those who need our voice.

Dear God, help us to be brave and vocal as we cry out in the wilderness for your way of truth and peace. Amen.
-David Sloat

Prepare the Way: November 29, 2020

Prepare the Way!

“Comfort, O comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that she has served her term, that her penalty is paid, that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins.”
-Isaiah 40:1-2

Would that I could speak tenderly to Jerusalem. I guess it takes a prophet — someone possessed of the big picture. That’s not me.
Here in the present, Jerusalem seems a long way from paying for her sins, much less receiving double for them from the Lord. Are we talking about the Jehovah that was so keen to expunge Sodom and Gomorrah for their wickedness? The God of Isaiah seems more forbearing and generous.

As I try to emulate God’s grace, there are moments when Jerusalem softens my heart — when I think of us more affectionately, as I would my grandchildren when they are tired and willful. You just want to hug them and tell them you know it’s been hard, that they’re having a bad day, but they are loved, and it will get better. Maybe instead of waiting for Jerusalem to pay for her transgressions, I could try, as Christ ultimately did, to go her bail…and fulfill prophecy.

Lord, calm my agitated spirit and lift my sight toward the vision of your kingdom on Earth. Amen.
-Michael Boss

Prepare the Way: Preparing the Way

Prepare the Way!

I first heard these Isaiah readings as a 15 year old singing the “You-Sing-It” Messiah with my mom, the San Jose Symphonic Choir, and more than 1,500 other singers. I was not yet a churchgoer and still working out what I believed (though I knew that I was definitely Christian), and it was a way of encountering the texts that fixed them pretty strongly in my mind. Eventually, I would become a choir member at my local Episcopal church and hear them that way, but Handel’s Messiah remains the first thought that comes to my mind when I see them in the lectionary.

While I heard them first in participating in the “You-Sing-It” Messiah, I did not learn about them or their history until college (when they came up in Bible study for Intervarsity) and seminary when I took my first formal class on the Old Testament. It was enlightening to actually read the entire Book of Isaiah, to understand the historical aspect of what was going on in Judah when Isaiah was telling them to get it together, and also to learn that there are considered to be at least two (possibly three) different writers of Isaiah, especially as the book covers a span before and after the exile to Babylon. While most of the verses we are looking at are from the second half of the book when Isaiah is telling the exiled ones to come home, we have a few verses from the beginning where Isaiah is telling off Judah for their violence and miscarriages of justice.

It seems fitting this year to be looking at these passages given that we are amid a seemingly endless pandemic and in the aftermath of a contentious election. We need to hear that God is coming, and we need to hear that hope exists. Every devotion is structured the same way with the passage at the top, the reflection in the middle, and a prayer at the end.

Advent blessings to you all!
-Jen McCabe