The Church as Highway Department

Third Sunday of Advent (Year B)

Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11

Luke 1:46-55

1 Thessalonians 5:16-24

John 1:6-8, 19-28

Not long ago I heard a program on NPR about the use of satellite images by human rights groups as a way of tracking atrocities in South Sudan.  Using before and after images human rights workers are able to track changes in the landscape that might indicate a mass grave or the razing of a village.  The satellite images also offer a chance, in some cases, of heading off attacks because preceding a major advance the Janjaweed militias will have to clear trees and build roads to allow their forces to move heavy artillery.  In another recent NPR story about the history of the American interstate system, the author of a book on the subject talked about how Eisenhower, with his military background, liked the idea of long, broad highways that would allow for quick military deployment in the event of an attack.

These NPR stories came to mind when I read Isaiah 40:3, the passage of scripture John the Baptist quotes as he explains to the official religious authorities who exactly he is: “A voice cries out: ‘In the wilderness prepare the way o f the LORD, make straight in the desert a highway for our God” (Isaiah 40:3b).  There is a military sensibility at work in this proclamation that certainly wouldn’t be lost on John or Isaiah’s hearers.  God is making an advance; God is coming to attack the world of robbery, greed and enslavement that have plagued God’s people.  This is not an advance of violence, but rather of liberation and restoration—“good news to the oppressed…liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners.” Read more