On this past Sunday, the Second Sunday of Advent, we read the opening verse of Mark’s Gospel, where it describes the coming of John the Baptist before Jesus’ ministry.
The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
As it is written in the prophet Isaiah,
“See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way; the voice crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make [God’s] paths straight.'”
This Advent, the events in Ferguson and New York City have been constantly on my mind. I have frequently been frustrated with Christmas themes all around and sometimes even angry in church at no one in particular. The incongruity between this period of the year and what is going on in the world are great beyond words: how are we to hope in the midst of so much despair? But hearing this passage, I began to wonder how connected Advent and current events might still be.
What would it mean for us to go out and proclaim, “Prepare the way of the Lord, make God’s paths straight!”? What would Advent mean to us if our (I’m speaking mostly to the white folks now) response to tragedy in this season was not avoidance, but “Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight the paths of God!”? How might white Christians find themselves converted if their response to injustice was not defensiveness or silence — or, heaven forbid, consent — but “Prepare the way of the Lord! Make straight the paths of God!”
Lest we forget, John the Baptist’s message was not one of warm fuzzies. It was one of dire need for repentance. We would do well to hear that message today, those of us who sit with the privilege of being able to turn off the news and step away from the injustices rocking our nation. We would do well to hear that message of repentance today, especially those of us who have turned a deaf ear on the cries of the oppressed in the past. We would do well to hear John’s message of conversion today, those of us who have ignored or even harmed our black brothers and sisters for years on end.
Repent, God calls, do not be defensive. Repent, God calls, do not blame the victim. Repent, God calls, do not seek self-preservation. Repent. Repent of the sins of our ancestors, repent of the sins of our own lives. Repent of what we have done and what we have failed to do. Repent of the system in which we are complicit. Repent!
It is the Christian mission of Advent, if not the rest of the year, to declare and enact John’s mission statement: “Prepare the way of the Lord! Make the paths of God straight!” We are not tasked in Advent to merely wait and hope for a better world. We do that. We do hope for Christ to come and make things right. We do wait for Jesus to return. But we cannot afford to let that hope be an excuse for inaction.
Is the way of the Lord prepared with injustice? Is the way of the Lord prepared with deaf ears to the oppressed? Are the paths of God made straight by violence, destruction, and discrimination? Is the way of the Lord prepared by corrupt systems and laws that poison our communities?
The way of the Lord is prepared by those in the streets. The paths of God are made straight by those lying on the ground in protest. The paths of God are prepared and made straight in the righting of wrongs, the redressing of injustices, and with the reconciliation that only comes when things have been put right again.
This is what Advent looks like: