The wilderness, which can seduce us with its beauty and its majesty, has many faces. In one part of the country its dense forests and lush vegetation fill up our senses. In another, its stark barrenness purges us of affectation, while its grandeur takes away our breath. It is a place of wonder and exploration, a place of respite and rejuvenation. Unless, of course, we are lost in it. Then it is a place of dread and terror, for it supports life only if we possess survival skills. Without such skills, we are at the mercy of an apparently disinterested, even hostile, environment.
Today the calm of our lives is startled by voices from the wilderness. With Isaiah we hear one crying out for the construction of a passable route through the desert; from another desert we hear John the Baptist’s unsettling call to repentance. Recently we have been involved in armed conflict in a land marked by expanses of wilderness, and we face the possibility of further confrontation in yet another such land. The challenges posed by the wilderness, whether that wilderness is a geographical expanse or some form of metaphorical reference, cut to the core of our lives.
What does this have to do with Advent? Everything! While our calendars may suggest that Advent is the season of preparation for the celebration of the Nativity, the Advent readings broaden our view and insist that we are really preparing for the coming of the reign of God in our lives. We are being called to prepare for a time when kindness and truth will meet, when justice and peace will kiss, when truth will spring out of the earth, and justice will look down from heaven. Advent is a time for serious road construction—and we all know the inconvenience that that entails. Isaiah is not describing minor repairs, such as filling in potholes or repairing curbs. He is calling for major reconfiguration of the terrain: filling in valleys and leveling mountains; smoothing rugged land and rough country. He is calling for serious transformation of the landscape of our lives.
This is the same message that we hear from John the Baptist: Repent! Acknowledge your sinfulness, your anger and hatred and desire for revenge, your obsession with power and your manipulation and abuse of others, your greed and unwillingness to help those in need. The author of 2 Peter echoes this call to repentance. Picking up the theme of last Sunday, he proclaims that there is indeed a new world on the horizon, a new heaven and a new earth, one in which righteousness dwells, one in which justice and peace kiss. Advent is the time to heed these voices.