Preparing the Way

2nd Sunday of Advent (Year B)

“Prepare the way of the Lord!”

Isaiah 40:3

A herald is something of a cross between a messenger, an announcer and an ambassador. Heralds serve as the “voice” of the king, proclaiming royal decrees and announcing his presence. 

On this Second Sunday of Advent, we meet the herald of the King of Kings. John the Baptist is the “voice crying out in the desert” prophesied by Isaiah. He tells us to “prepare the way of the Lord” by “making straight his paths.”

Isaiah gives us a very literal image of how this is done. A highway is made in the wasteland by filling in valleys and lowering mountains (Is 40:4). This is a description of how roads were prepared for kings to travel on in the ancient world. Workmen would go ahead of the king’s caravan to fill in low places and flatten hills to make the going smoother for the king. But like everything else in scripture, there is a deeper spiritual meaning.

One can’t help but notice parallels with Mary’s Magnificat in Luke’s gospel, when she speaks of God casting down the mighty and raising up the lowly (Lk 1:52). We see in John the Baptist’s ministry that he speaks harshly to the arrogant (such as the scribed and Pharisees), but offers words of hope to the downtrodden. Jesus does the same. This is not because Jesus loves the lowly more than He loves the proud. Jesus loves them both. Because He loves them both He offers them both what they need. 

Those who are lowly — the poor, the downtrodden, the rejected, those who think they may be beyond hope — need to be lifted up. They need to know that they are worthy of God’s love. The powerful and haughty, on the other hand, need to be knocked down a peg. They need to know that they, too, are in need of a savior. Pride is dangerous precisely because it tricks us into thinking we don’t need help, so we don’t ask for it and refuse it when it is offered. 

Both the rich and the poor, the proud and the lowly, need salvation from their sins. And, as our psalm this Sunday reminds us, that salvation (yeshua in Hebrew, from which we get the name “Jesus”) is near at hand (Ps 85:10). Jesus is near to us. He is as near as the tabernacle of the closest Catholic Church. He is within our very bodies every time we receive Holy Communion. He is as close as your Bible. He is as close the prayer, “Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner.” 

Given the truth of all this, how do we respond? What kind of people should we be? This is the profound question posed by St. Peter in the second reading (2 Pt 3:11). 

Since our salvation is at hand, then what sort of persons ought we to be? St. Peter gives us the answer. We should “come to repentance.” That is, we should turn toward the Lord (that’s what repent means) and “conduct ourselves with holiness and devotion.”

We need to lower the mountains and fill in the valleys of our hearts. What are the high places in your heart that need to be knocked down? It could be pride, arrogance, self-righteousness, stubbornness. What sins act as mountains in your life standing between you and God. Make them low! Get ride of them! That’s what repentance does for us; it is a renouncing of sin and an embracing of the love of God.

What are the low places, the valleys, in your heart? Where is there something missing that needs to filled in? It could be prayer, worship, knowledge of scripture, or acts of mercy; or virtues such as charity, patience, prudence, or chastity. Maybe it’s forgiveness of someone who wronged you. Whatever it is, wherever some aspect of the love of God or neighbor is missing from our lives, that is a low spot that needs to be filled in. This is all part of how we make a straight path for the Lord in our hearts and prepare ourselves to welcome Him at His coming.

The season of Advent is a season of preparation. It reminds us that our entire life on this earth is a time of preparation for the coming of Christ. That means that now is the time for us to turn to the Lord. Now is the time for us to repent and believe the good news. Now is the time to prepare the way of the Lord. Let us today listen to the voice of His herald and make straight His path to our hearts.