In some parts of the country, it seems, there are only two seasons, winter and road construction. The excitement of a trip is often tempered by detours and single-lane traffic. Major sports events, political conventions or an upcoming visit by dignitaries also prompt the repair of our roads, though in such situations we usually discover routes that allow us to avoid the annoyance.
Today’s readings invite us to reflect on road construction. Baruch sketches a poignant scene. Grieving Jerusalem is told to stand on the heights in order to see her scattered children streaming back home, with God in the lead. The road back has been repaired: impassable mountains have been brought low, and ditches and gorges have been built up.
Luke alludes to a passage from Isaiah depicting a similar scene. In the original setting, the exiled people were told that God would lead them home, much as God led their ancestors through the wilderness to the promised land. They were assured that all obstacles would be removed so this could be accomplished. Luke connects John, who lived in the wilderness of Judea, with that voice “crying out in the desert.” By implication, if John is the voice, then Jesus is the one leading the people back home.
These readings do not focus on Jesus’ coming to us, but his coming with us. He leads us to salvation. Because there are obstacles in our path, road construction is necessary. This is not the kind of road repair that we can avoid by taking another route. We will have to move carefully through reconstruction of the road as we travel over it.
What obstacles must be removed? As individuals, we might have to overcome deep-seated resentment, persistent fault-finding, unwillingness to forgive, dishonesty in our dealings with others, a bullying attitude. As a society we might have to dismantle unfair housing policies, employment disparity, economic injustice, racial and ethnic biases.
The image of Jerusalem held out to the people of Israel encouraged them as they journeyed back home. The city they loved so dearly was clothed in the “splendor of glory from God...wrapped in the cloak of justice.” The image held out to us is no less resplendent. It is the new Jerusalem, the new city of peace and justice, the reign of God on earth.
The journey toward that city may be tedious, and the obstacles we encounter on the way may seem overwhelming, but God leads us just as God led the Israelites. Our faith assures us of this, and we have Paul to spur us on: “I am confident...that the one who began a good work in you will continue to complete it.”
We may be puzzled by Advent readings that say nothing about Jesus’ birth. But what we are anticipating is the advent of our salvation. Its ultimate manifestation entered our world with Jesus’ birth; it takes root in our lives as we respond to God’s grace; and it will be brought to completion when Christ comes in glory. We are on the way. That is why we need a stretch of good road.