What’s old is new. The prophetic words and visions of antiquity form key Advent themes in the story of John the Baptist, in the gospels of both Mark and John. A still-relevant voice cries out in the wilderness—the wilderness of biblical exiles and of the “other America” beaten anew by storm and recession. The time has come to “make straight in the desert a highway for our God” (Isaiah 40:3).
On this cosmic highway, prophets and poets can proclaim “the year of the Lord’s favor” (Isaiah 61:2) and the alternate rule of God’s justice. It is a sovereignty rooted in the Davidic kingdom, but born anew with the birth of the Prince of Peace. As God takes human form to dwell among us, humanity and all of creation prepare to sing of the beauty of “the feet of the messenger who announces peace,” brings good news, and announces salvation (Isaiah 52:7).
Although Isaiah first spoke to the vagaries of a particular community in exile, the flower of this prophetic tradition blossoms in these Advent and Christmas gospel lections. What, then, is new? The fullest revelation of God arrives in the person of Jesus Christ. Here, the prophetic and the incarnational meet, in the beauty of justice and the very songs of redemption.
What’s new? “[T]he Word became flesh and lived among us…full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). Isaiah’s words will regain more power than ever, so let’s prepare the way!
Robert Roth is a writer and social activist in East Lansing, Michigan.
Building the Highway
Isaiah 40:1-11; Psalm 85:1-2, 8-13; 2 Peter 3:8-15; Mark 1:1-8