Follow the Contours

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Article A

In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord,
make straight in the desert a highway for our Lord.
Every valley should be lifted up,
and every mountain and hill made low;
the uneven ground shall become level,
and the rough place plain.
Isaiah 40:3-4


In the days of Israel’s captivity, roads were prepared for the rulers’ procession to the city. You had to remove the rocks and fix the potholes and make the crooked places straight. You did all this to show honour to the ruler.

Isaiah is part of our Advent readings because he fits with our sense of getting ready and preparing. But I have always struggled with this passage with its insistence on changing the landscape by making everything straight or level because the ruler, this time, will be a baby born in a cave in Bethlehem. He will lie in a manger surrounded by sheep and goats, cows and oxen. Later in life, he will enter Jerusalem on the back of a lowly colt. He will defy imperial conventions and choose a more humble entrance through the shepherd’s gate. So why prepare for him like he is an imperial ruler? 

I understand the convenience of linking the wild locust eating camel hair wearing John the Baptist’s call for repentance to the Advent theme of being ready, staying awake, and preparation. I challenge the notion, however, that our preparation needs to be modelled on how we treat imperial authority. I also live in a place where the only straight roads are either illegal settler roads or military roads.

Once on the way to the village of Nahalin, my friend, Jihan, made the comment that the road was bumpy and torn up because it was a Palestinian road and only the settlers had nice smooth straight roads. She said if they fixed this small twisted road it would be saying you accept the apartheid road system----that separate roads are normal. She was proud of their crooked rocky road.

In the Judean desert today, the place where John the Baptist wandered about until he came to the Jordan River to baptize, the roads are mostly straight because they are Israeli military roads. However, before they became military roads they were pathways the animals took following the contours of the land. The animals always took the easiest routes. Easiest wasn’t always straight. The Israeli military was smart; they watched how the camels travelled and then built their roads based on their paths.

I invite you to shift your focus then back to making a highway for our Lord based on the fact that he is not an earthly ruler or an imperial commander but rather the prince of peace.

In the wilderness of your lives I invite you to follow the way of the camels who follow the contours of the land. When the mountains rise, climb up them. When the valleys dip, go into them. Share the road with others and if need be, fix the road together so all can travel safely. Follow the contours of the land; don’t change or destroy it. Follow the paths of those who have gone before you; they know the way.  

Let your preparation for the coming of God –with- us be an opening to follow rather than a call to change, fix, or destroy. Fear not your imperfections-- your crooked rough places, your unsmooth thoughts, or even your splintered or broken heart. God welcomes you just as you are and asks you to do the same for others. Follow the contours of the landscape of your wild life, God will meet you there. Let this  be your preparation. 

Article BThe Revd Loren McGrail is a mission co-worker for Disciples of Christ and United Church of Christ Global Ministries. She serves in Israel and Palestine with the YWCA of Palestine. She is the advocacy and Church Relations Officer. She is also an ecumenical partner with the Church of Scotland.

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