Even when we enjoy many creature comforts, our need for deliverance is really never very far from us. We like to fool ourselves into believing we have created a zone of safety, but the trappings of material comfort offer little protection when things get really tough. They are like thin gauze when cold winds blow, as they often do during Advent in our northern climate. The words “all flesh is grass” resonate strongly when the earth becomes like iron and the grass grows no more. What sustains us then?
The sustenance we draw from our stores of good things (even in sharing them with others) is ultimately not enough. Such comfort is only temporary and cannot meet our deeper needs. We need God. We are glad to hear that we belong to him, that he loves us, and that he comes to find us. Such faith, love, and hope make this world habitable and draw us toward the path of life with God that extends beyond what we can see, but which we know to be there.
In Isaiah’s prophecy, a voice cries out for dramatic preparations. The imagery of filling in valleys, bringing down mountains, and smoothing rugged land in an era before Caterpillar tractors seems daunting indeed. With technology of hand shovels and picks (or less), it would have required a group effort, to be sure. Notice the good news of what happens after this preparation: “Then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all people shall see it together; for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.” I think this is an important message to consider in our Advent journey: the glory of the Lord will be revealed in a community of faith. This is not a solitary event, but one which should be experienced with others.
Many suffer from loneliness at this time of year. Let us not forget them. Many also are not in the habit of coming to church. Some have gotten lost. Those of us who are in church regularly like to think we are on the right path. But if we are honest, we must admit that we still lose our way from time to time, and that somehow God keeps finding us, too. Let us pause today and remember what losing our way feels like, so that we can reach out to others. And let us also pause and think with gratitude upon the joy that comes when God brings us back to our senses.
Today’s gospel concerning the lost sheep fits so well with Isaiah’s message of a good and powerful shepherd coming to bring those looking for deliverance back home. By extending a hand to our fellow sheep, praying for each other, and preparing together, perhaps we may discover anew the beauty and truth of the Incarnation in this Advent season, when our God comes in power through a gentle mother and her infant Son, our Lord Jesus Christ.
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