Voices & Echoes
Isaiah 40: 1-11, Micah 5: 2-5a, John 1 6-8, 19-28, Luke 1: 26-38
Back when I was en English major, we used to talk about how the texts would speak to each other, across generations and genres. The idea is that no art or speech or idea is in a vacuum, contained to its own time and creator. It is in conversation with other texts. It necessarily stands in connection – or disconnection (a kind of connection) – with what has gone before and even with what will come. Some writing is clearly informed by what precedes it, while other writing seems ahead of its time.
And here we are, trying to hear what it’s saying all these years later, amidst the many echoes of those other texts.
Maybe this is why it has always seemed strange to me when Christians draw hard distinctions between the Old and New Testaments, as if they aren’t one long story, as if you can even hear what the New Testament says without all those Old Testament writings echoing into the newer story.
Imagine how different these familiar Advent readings would be, without their conversation with one another through time. What would John have said when the priests and the Levites trekked out to the desert to ask him just who he thought he was? I’m trying to tell you about some cool things coming up shortly here. God’s going to blow your mind. Just you wait and see. Want to be baptized while you wait? Perhaps it carries some of the same meaning, but the resonance is not there.
In the reading a few moments ago we heard John quote Isaiah’s words (which we also just heard read tonight): “I am the voice of the one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’” (John 1: 23). Actually, Isaiah said that the voice crying out said, “In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord” (Isa 40: 3). Does it matter that Isaiah’s voice says to prepare the way in the wilderness while John claims to be the voice crying out from within the wilderness? Maybe. Maybe not. But here we are listening to the conversation between these two, which happened over hundreds of years and echoes out to us thousands of years later. Because we’ve heard both voices, we can’t but help think of John and Jesus when we read Isaiah. We can’t help but hearken back to Isaiah when we hear John. And we, in turn, incorporate the conversations we hear into our journey.
Advent is great for reminding us we’re on a journey. Another year has gone by and we are not in the same place. Sometimes a lot happens in a year; sometimes we inch along in tiny increments. Even when we feel stuck in some part of our lives, rounding the corner into Advent is a reminder that movement has indeed happened. Maybe not the movement we wanted but we find ourselves on the road to Bethlehem again, listening to voices and echoes in the wilderness.
These voices are not merely repeating a dusty, commemorative story. These voices – this Word – are telling a new story, today. The valleys will be lifted up and the hills brought low. Make God’s pathways straight! The people shall live secure. Don’t be afraid, for you have found favor with God. Nothing is impossible with God. Right here in the middle of our imperfect, busy, stress-filled lives, God is speaking in ancient words, creating a fresh chapter of the story in us, in the world right now.
We are on the road, following in the path of so many other pilgrims who have gone this way before, who travel with us now, and who will come along behind us at some later point. Even here in the wilderness, the path is crowded. And, if you listen, you can hear the voices speaking across the generations, into your life. If you listen, you can hear that God’s Word has always been spoken for you and always will be. If you listen, you can hear that it’s a long story arc and we are caught up in it, caught up in the conversation that saves and transforms us. Do you hear what I hear?
Thanks be to God!
© 2011 Deborah E. Lewis