Listen to two of the principal prophets of the Judeo-Christian tradition: Isaiah and John; Old Testament and New Testament.
Isaiah delivers his message as consolation to the people aching in their exile; John shouts his as last-minute, change-your-wicked-ways warning. But they speak with a single voice. What do they want? What do they promise? What do they demand?
A straight highway! A straight path! Iron out the creases. Fill in the potholes. Cover up the quirks. Level the mountains and build up the valleys. Make all straight and make all true and the glory of the Lord will be revealed.
That’s the vision and the promise of two great prophets. It’s stirring. It’s powerful. And it’s a terrible temptation.
Societies succumb to that temptation when they exclude and demonize whatever isn’t straight—the bent, the black, the female, the old, the poor. We know about that.
But we do it all ourselves too—to ourselves. Whenever we cooperate with the bruised and bargaining soul inside us that wants to make a deal with God. I’ll do it Lord—I’ll tidy up my act. I’ll work out my kinks. I’ll do whatever you want, God, in the hope that you will come. Bring on the bulldozer—there are mountains to move and caverns to fill. Let me make all straight and make all true and the glory of the Lord will be revealed.
But Jesus didn’t come that way—and doesn’t. His path is not straight. His way is bent way off course. He cannot be summoned with camel-skin and locusts and wild honey. He doesn’t come like Isaiah’s Lord—in power, his arm subduing all things—not even like his shepherd, gathering lambs close to his chest—we are not sheep.
He comes as a homeless baby, of questionable parentage, at an inopportune time, into uncertain and contested territory.
He is not what we expect and—if we are honest—scarcely what we want. But if we catch him, this Advent, creeping unawares into our bent and broken experience maybe we’ll learn to want him the way he is. The way he wants us. And who knows what hope there is in his company, his kingdom, off beam, off kilter, and off the straight path.