Reflection on Luke 3:1-6 by the Rev. Dr. Kate Hennessy-Keimig
Even more than usual, the themes of Advent are striking a particular resonance with me this year. This time of waiting, of the in-between and the “not-yet” has become very familiar. The wilderness too, that wild and unfamiliar place that takes us to our edges and, if we let it, to places of transformation and new beginnings, has started to map its landscape onto my heart.
John’s familiar message strikes a ringing chord as well. While it’s true, as always, that I cannot hear the passage from Isaiah without hearing Handel’s beautiful melody … “Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God, every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill made low, the crooked straight, and the rough places plain,” this year I am hearing the words themselves anew, with sharp and clear images about just how much difference we are talking about in this altered landscape, as well as the amount of effort, movement and, yes, probably pain, would be involved in such change.
I’ve been watching the building of a new bridge in my town. It started a few years before we moved here and it won’t be all done until December of 2014. It has involved the moving of tons of earth, the removal of buildings, the rerouting of lanes of traffic, and actual changes in where roads come and go. Places that were once flat are now sloped and places that were steeper have been graded down. Men spend days just grinding on pieces of cement to make them smooth and precise so that things will fit together in just the way they need to for safety and endurance on the new structure. When the new bridge is all done, the old one, which has been a staple of the town landscape for almost a century, will be demolished, and a new pathway with four wide, smooth lanes of traffic will take us back and forth across the river. The bridge builders are very proud of the fact that there have been no fatalities during the very daunting task of constructing this bridge, but certainly there have been people injured, and there have been accidents as drivers have not adapted to the changes caused by the construction. Traffic has been slow and congested at times and it’s been difficult, irritating, and a general source of frustration for many people for several years as we wait for a new bridge to come.
Personally, too, in the last few years, there have been a lot of changes in the landscape of my life. Since 2010, there has been a wedding, with its combining of households, two more complete moves of house and town, the ends and beginnings between my husband and I of six jobs, and a return to school for him, the aborted attempt to sell a house, and recently the re-start of that effort, the beginning and premature end of a CPE program, a small stint in a parish begun in hope that did not work out, and one that seemed to have much promise that never even got off the ground. Of late, there have been some of those “close calls” with medical tests. You know the ones, where you get the call-back, “something is there, and we want another look.” So you go, and they look, and you wait, and you worry, you hope and you pray. And, even though, thanks be to God, all has been well in the end, during the waiting, at least if you are me, you go to that wilderness of worst-case scenario, every single time. It seems like it’s been the Advent of my life for quite a while now, and I’m finding myself trying to make some sense of it, and to answer the “God questions” in the midst of it.
Change and transformation do not usually happen without effort and, most often, not without some level of pain and discomfort. Being in the wilderness, by chance or by choice, often pushes our limits and taxes our endurance. Sometimes we take it on by choice because we want to grow or change and we know somehow that we need to be in an environment that will enable this. Sometimes the wilderness seems to find us, and the choice becomes what we will do while we are there. Because there is always a choice for us. Unlike the mute dirt and rock of the valleys and mountains, we get to choose whether we will listen to the message of the journey, whether we will allow ourselves to be changed by it. We decide whether we will let the wilderness do its work upon us to straighten out the kinks in our thinking, open our hearts to encompass a wider scope of emotion, smooth the rough places in our souls. We can turn and choose to see how God is present in this time, this moment, or we can hide under a rock, lost in the fear. We can open ourselves up to a new vision of things, a changed landscape, a different path, or we can cling stubbornly to “how it was, is, or should be.” We can stretch ourselves a bit to allow space for whatever new thing God might be doing in our corner of the world, or we can curl in and remain small. We can participate and co-create in the process of things being made new, or we can refuse, the choice is ours.
We are invited into the ongoing process of preparing for the coming always and again into our own wilderness of the One who is ever here/ever new. Sometimes, as my husband reminded me recently, I have to be “encouraged” to do things for my own benefit. I need to be reminded sometimes that just a little effort on that landscape will likely pay off, and might even bring joy! Prepare the way of the Lord, he is coming!