Isaiah provides quite the image of preparation for the arrival of the Most High God. A broad open highway is made for his coming as the valleys are filled in, as the mountains are made low. Isaiah makes clear that there are no obstacles too big for God. Why all this crushing dramatic language? Isaiah says that God is coming to heal. Like a father rushing to the aid of his endangered child, God is coming to save, bring comfort and heal, if we let him.
Everyone’s healings vary depending on the stages of life. For the more senior among us, the time eventually fades when all aches and pains can be effectively covered over. Sometimes they just stay and linger. Perhaps our healing will be praying to accept and experience the truth that God knows this very well, and that he really is near us, and it is not for lack of love that he has allowed them. Aches and hurts are not distributed fairly or equally. What is distributed equally is his living presence alongside each of us and the accompanying grace offered to carry these burdens in some fashion with him until he calls us home.
The deeper healing that everyone needs, regardless of age, is the healing from sin. Sin and its accompanying consequences have left a bitter taste in the hearts of all. The acknowledgement of our own capacity for evil and pettiness can leave us feeling bitter and cynical toward both ourselves and others. Without a healer of hearts, this attitude can persist and become a tragic morose character disposition that we bring to anyone and everyone who can still tolerate us. Jesus can heal and reverse this. Healing comes with an honest acknowledgment of sin as illustrated in today’s Gospel and then the acceptance of forgiveness and new hope offered in every encounter with Jesus. This encounter with Christ, especially alive in the sacrament of confession, brings a lasting healing that this secular world cannot give. This Gospel is rightly placed at the start of Advent to teach us how to wisely prepare a path for the healing God.
We can also prepare paths for others and at times providence makes clear that God is inviting us to do just this. If we remember that we are preparing the way for the one who will follow us, we will minimize our own frustration. God will arrange his arrival time; our task is to help lay the highway. In all our efforts to spread the kingdom of God it is helpful to remember that “One mightier than I is coming after me. I am not worthy to stoop and loosen the thongs of his sandals.” Whether friend or foe, this can be of help in leaving the rest to God.
Questions for reflection
1. What mountains of pride need to be flattened in my life?
2. What valleys of self-pity and inner fear need to be filled?
3. Where am I asked to believe that “one mightier than I is coming after me?”
Fr. Vander Steeg is pastor of St. Mary Parish, Greenville, and St. Edward Parish, Mackville.