Good morning, Gentle Reader. Yes, I “took yesterday off.” After a fashion, anyway. I spent it finishing the first draft of my novel-under-construction, which is now in the hands of my test readers. And with that elephant off my back, I feel years…well, maybe a month or two younger. So I’m back at my op-ed perch to bore you with more of the usual crap.
Except that this is the second Sunday of Advent, which is anything but “usual.”
From the Gospel According to Luke:
Now in the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, Pontius Pilate being governor of Judaea, and Herod being tetrarch of Galilee, and his brother Philip tetrarch of Ituraea and of the region of Trachonitis, and Lysanias the tetrarch of Abilene, Annas and Caiaphas being the high priests, the word of God came unto John the son of Zacharias in the wilderness.
And he came into all the country about Jordan, preaching the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins;
As it is written in the book of the words of Esaias the prophet, saying, The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.
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 flesh shall see the salvation of God.
It’s a famous passage and highly appropriate for the Advent season, in which Christians of all denominations prepare to celebrate the birth of Christ in mortal flesh. But what particularly struck me this morning—not for the first time, mind you—was the portion I emphasized.
John the Baptist was of course prophesying about Jesus, Our Lord and Redeemer. But consider the images in the emphasized portion:
- Valleys filled;
- Mountains made low;
- Crooked paths straightened;
- Rough ways smoothed.
We don’t normally think of such things as flaws that cry out to be fixed…well, those of us who aren’t civil engineers, anyway. In all probability, most of the Jews of first-century Judea didn’t think of them much at all, unless they were headed somewhere. But John chose those as the images that would best express his intentions in proclaiming “a baptism of repentance.”
Even on a surface level, it’s inspiring imagery – sufficiently so to have caught the eye of a certain George Friedrich Handel:
But what would filling the valleys and lowering the mountains result in? What would we have after straightening the crooked paths and smoothing the rough places? What shapes would remain?
The simplest shapes: the straight line and the sphere.
John the Baptist chose those images as the foundation for “the highway of the Lord:” perfectly straight and undisturbed paths over a perfect sphere. Such a course would be the simplest and easiest to travel. To create such a course, John implied, would be a homage to the Lord, a physical expression of our worship of Him. He would surely be pleased by such a course. (Golfers would love it, too.)
Simple and easy. Those are not adjectives that frequently apply to human lives.
Our lives are difficult. Even if we omit the pseudo-pandemic the agents of fear and oppression have used to bend us to their will, life’s a hard and complex job. Little of it is ever simple or easy. We make a lot of mistakes. So images of straight lines and a sphere are appealing tokens of simplicity, of easy travel in which mistakes are, practically speaking, impossible.
These are conditions we yearn for, even if we don’t believe them to be possible. They’re like the perfect love, wherein two lovers understand and accept one another wholly and absolutely, such that there can never be a misstep between them.
Jesus, “the Alpha and Omega” of the Divine dispensation for Man, would later say something that perfectly fits the dream of simplicity and ease:
Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.
And it is so. He asks little of us, far less than any other preacher who has ever liver or any creed that has ever been proclaimed. The two Great Commandments perfectly summarize His New Covenant. He brought it to the Jews of Judea at a time when the Judaic creed had become so complex that even remembering it all was beyond the great majority. That contrast was beautifully exemplified when He exhorted the “rich young man” to “keep the commandments,” and the “rich young man” replied “Which ones?”
May your Advent season be as simple as a sphere and as easy as walking a straight, smooth path. May your Christmas be filled with the light and joy of the angels on the night when they proclaimed the birth of the King of Kings. And may God bless and keep you all.