PS 72:1-2, 7-8, 12-13, 17
As a liturgical season, Advent highlights the already and not yetness of Christian Faith. We are currently in a time of preparing to celebrate the birth of Jesus over 2,000 years ago. And yet, as I read Isiah’s proclamation of hope, of a restoration of the people of Israel, my attention is drawn past the new roots and blossoms, to the image of the stump. This Advent, after a political season that has laid bare the deep divisions festering in our country, that has reminded me of our capacity and willingness to brutalize each other, I am acutely aware of the not yetness present in our world.
I find a good call to action is a nice antidote to hopelessness, and in this Sunday’s Gospel we hear John the Baptist calling us to “repent” and to “prepare the way of the Lord” to, “Make straight his paths”. Which sounds a little clear in that it is one thing to do; but also vague in that I am initially at a loss as to what step one of “make clear his path” could look like. For me, this vagueness becomes troubling when I hear john tell the Pharisees, in fact tell me, “Produce good fruit as evidence of your repentance” followed up with allusions to the stump from Isaiah.
One thing is crystal clear; repentance is not passive, it requires doing something. I cannot offer you a concrete roadmap or checklist of steps for repentance. We all have a unique style of sinfulness, of deviating from the vision of who we are that God holds for each of us. What I do is a starting point for reflection. Going back to John’s injunction to “make straight (the Lord's) paths,” I am prompted to think of the parable of the Shepherd separating the goats from the sheep.
Jesus is quite explicit in saying that whatever we do for the poor, the hungry, the imprisoned - for all those experiencing marginalization today - we do for him. We are called to make straight the paths for our brothers and sisters. The steps we take to take down barriers to health care, to education, to each other, are steps to “Make straight the path of the Lord.” This is only a starting point for discernment and discussion. There are so many ways our systems meet the description of “crooked paths.” Let us use this time of preparation to discern how we might join in in the vision of harmony and restoration found in today’s readings.
John Burke is the Faith and Justice Coordinator in Campus Ministry.