A Meditation for Advent 2
The Rev. Erin Maxfield-Steele
There are places in Western North Carolina where the words “woods” or “forest” seem too tame. The woods break open into a broad gash of rockslide or a mammoth slope of bare mountain. The stream suddenly picks up pace and begins to swirl around huge boulders and caught driftwood. The trail, if you look closely, reveals the claw marks of bears who have flipped flat stones over, looking for grub not too long before you took your first steps onto the trail.
I notice the wilderness, the wildness, the otherness of these places first in my body. My footsteps stop me and I’m not sure why and lifting my gaze up from the ground I realize where I am. Rounding the end of a ridgeline to land on snow or ice, I realize how fragile I am as the sudden cold of the north side of the mountain hits my face.
As I write, the rain has just become heavy, wet snow. The words I would have reflected on tomorrow morning, the second Sunday of Advent, are still in my mind: “the voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth; and all flesh shall see the salvation of God’” (Luke 3:4b-6, interpreting Isaiah 40:3-6). How strange—to cry out in the wilderness. I have heard self-proclaimed prophets shouting in crowded streets, on college campuses, walking silently through Pride celebrations with signs that shout in brutal images. But to cry out where there is no human audience, where the leaves absorb even the sound of your footsteps, or where a mountainside simply echoes your words back to you. . .seems foolish, maybe even desperate.
Sometimes we cry out for incredible, irrational change, even when we have no reasonable hope, simply because we must cry out. We cry out when grief hits us hard, not to accomplish anything but because it is all that we can do. The words of the prophet Isaiah are words of hope: “Comfort, O comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem…In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord” (Isaiah 40:1-2a). But the words of John, the son of Elizabeth and Zechariah, seem to me to be full of longing: longing for the pathway between us and God to be made straight, and flat, and easy. Longing for all flesh to see the salvation of God.
I wonder what would happen if I went into the wilderness and started shouting all the changes I long for. It would be an interesting sight, possibly picked up by bigfoot believers. Foolish as it sounds, I know exactly what I would cry out for and it would take me a long, long time before I could be silent again. Put simply, I would plead for the pathway between us and God to be made straight, and flat, and easy, because, though I believe that God is present with us in the midst of our suffering, I want the world to be delivered from hardship and to feel confidently that the author of love is with us. I would cry out for God to gather up all the wounds of this world into an embrace so powerful that it wraps our redemption and salvation around us like a quilt.
In this season of longing, of waiting, of hoping, what do you cry out for? If you feel comfortable sharing, please do. Amen.