ADVENT 2: Year A
Poets, story-tellers and
other observers and commentators on the human condition have occasionally
pointed out the curious fact that in order to arrive at an intended destination
the traveller sometimes has to go by a roundabout and circuitous route.
In contrast to all that,
the prophet Isaiah, quoted in this morning’s Gospel reading, speaks of the
road along which the Lord will come to his people as ‘straight’ - straight,
direct and undeviating, not for him is there to be any going to Birmingham by
way of Beachy Head!
It was the Baptist’s
commission to clear away all the obstacles, all the hindrances and blockages
which stood in the way between the Lord and the hearts of his people.
In many ways it is
regrettable that in current usage the word ‘straight’, like the word
‘gay’, has been hijacked into the service of sexual politics. In spite of
that, however, straightness remains an almost universal symbol for what is right
and true, just as crookedness is a symbol for what is wrong and false. In
English idiomatic usage the word ‘straight’ has two principal meanings.
It was John the Baptist’s
mission to ‘prepare the way of the Lord’ by calling for it to be made
‘straight, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins’.
Such is the inclination,
the tendency, of our wayward nature to go crooked, to prefer pliant expediency
to straight principle, that John’s message still has to be heeded. In so many
ways we are tempted to be not quite straight in our dealings if we think that we
can get away with it - to be not quite straight in our speaking if we think that
telling the truth might not be wholly to our advantage - to be not quite
straight in our thinking if we suspect that straight thinking might lead to
uncomfortable or inconvenient consequences.
Such is our tendency to
deviate from the straight and the true that sometimes we find it difficult to
know what, in fact, is straight and true.
If you have a line on a
piece of paper and you want to test whether or not it is straight, you lay a
ruler along it. So we have rules and customs and laws which society has evolved
over many centuries to help us to keep straight, or at least to indicate what is
not straight, in our dealings with one another.
However, the value of human
laws is limited. After all, the rule of law is the work of human minds and human
minds are subject to an inherent disposition to distortion and deviation from
the straight. Since human law is concerned only with relations of human beings
living together in society, it does not help individuals in many of their
personal and private problems. Such individuals must then have recourse to their
conscience but consciences are not infallible.
So we need something more
reliable than either human laws and the human conscience if we are to ‘prepare
the way of the Lord and make his paths straight’ in our hearts and lives and
in the strained and tangled complexities of the world in which we live.
Christians believe that we
have been given one faultless, straight edge, one perfect and utterly reliable
ruler and measure - God himself, revealed in human terms in the person of Jesus
our Christ and our Saviour, he who is God’s way of being human.
He is humanity’s prime
meridian from which all else is reckoned. He is the lode-star by which our
course is set, our true north, the correct compass setting for our nature. In
him we see the straight way of being properly and fully human, without
distortion and without compromise. In him, with him, through him we are given
the straight course to God.
So, in responding to the Baptist’s call to prepare the way of the Lord and make his paths straight by our repentance and in seeking to have the mind of Christ in our response to the responsibilities and relationships of our lives and in disposing ourselves to allow Christ to be formed in us, we might do well to pray the words of the old Collect, asking that with Jesus ‘as our ruler and guide we may so pass through things temporal that we finally lose not the things eternal’.
Eric Simmons CR