Advent is a time of expectation and of longing. The words of the Prophet Isaiah echo this kind of longing and expectation. “Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be brought low, and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways shall be made smooth; and all shall see the salvation of God.”
Expectation and expecting certain things and outcomes are all quite normal as part of the human experience. You and I need some kind of target on which to focus our direction. Expectation is for the immediate, what is soon to come.
But, longing, I think, is something that goes beyond what we can immediately expect and maybe it is the sense of longing that provides a focus for what to be expecting.
Longing reaches beyond the everyday into the realms of making paths straight, making the crooked straight. The poetry of the words themselves shifts from the mere wishing for the tangible such as a new car, a new pair of shoes into a deep state of mind as if to be standing on a great height with a new insight and seeing people gathered from east and west who rejoice because they know God has remembered them.
The rough ways become smooth and we recognize the salvation and wholeness that God brings. It’s like a transformation from struggling along a winding, twisting rock-strewn mountain path to a way of looking ahead that makes the destination clear and the journey do-able.
I wonder if seeing the mountain-top picture gives a new focus for Advent and for what you and I expect from the experience of our journey.
The reality is that our paths are strewn with the roughness of obstacles along the way that are distracting, annoying, and often even painful. The destination becomes shrouded in a fog and we lose sight, maybe lose hope as if falling into a darkness.
But the Good News is that there is light in the midst of such darkness. Isaiah said that too. There’s a first point of longing … for light when darkness seems overwhelming, for straight paths when the journey feels twisted, for smooth ground when the heights seem insurmountable.
It’s a different kind of longing. It’s a different way to test expectations for what is reasonable and what is not. It’s a different way of seeing things that brings a new perspective on what really does make a difference and what does not in the reality of circumstances. That is a journey of faith.
Advent is stepping once again forward on that journey with a profound longing focussed on the rebirth of hope, of light when things are dark, of a clear vision when conflicting expectations are confounding. And it brings with it all the potential as that of a new born child who grows to teach and show the way to understanding. Advent is about engaging in a journey to God through Jesus the Christ child.
John the Baptist had a message to proclaim about this. And, long before his time the prophet spoke of this. From the prophet, there is the prayer that undergirds the longing of Advent.
The grass withers, the flower fades; but the word of our God will stand forever. Get you up to a high mountain, O Zion, herald of good tidings; lift up your voice with strength, O Jerusalem, herald of good tidings, lift it up, do not fear; say to the cities of Judah, "Here is your God!" See, the Lord God comes with might, and his arm rules for him; his reward is with him, and his recompense before him. He will feed his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms, and carry them in his bosom, and gently lead the mother sheep.