They are widening the road leading into our small town from the motorway. The town is growing: new neighbourhoods are springing up out of surrounding fields like a rash. Consequently, more traffic pours through causing congestion and easier access is demanded. So, trees are uprooted, hedgerows torn out, grass verges steamrollered, bumps and hillocks smoothed and tarmac laid. And lo! A highway!
It’s an altogether different thing from a country lane. Personally, I like an obscure footpath. A signpost with a yellow arrow on it by a style woos me irresistibly, as it disappears through trees and brambles. “Where am I going?” It whispers to me. “Come and explore!” So I clamber over the style, usually into a muddy puddle, and wander happily down the winding, crooked track into the green dappled
shade. Eventually, it may emerge at the edge of a meadow, obliging one to climb another style, to swish through tall buttercups or
swaying drifts of white marguerites. On the horizon, the Downs stretch blue in the distance, shadows cast by the folds and
hollows. Yes, country rambles are to be enjoyed and savoured, but they are not really going anywhere. They definitely have their place,
but if you are intent on going from A to B, you would find a direct route.
This is what Isaiah was talking about, and John the Baptist. “Prepare the way of the Lord!” John shouted. The people were aroused out of centuries of slumber. “ We are alright! We have the Law, we are circumcised, we are the chosen!” But suddenly, John is in their face.
“Wake up! There is One coming. In fact, he stands among you, although you do not recognise him. Make way!”
After centuries of silence, a new day is dawning. It is time for the Lamb of God to be revealed. He has come to take away the sin of the
world. The Good news must be proclaimed, voices must be lifted up. Don’t get too comfortable! A Highway must be built.
What does that entail? There are mountains that must be brought low: Ideologies, injustices, godless legislation which sanctions the
slaughter of unborn children, heedless greed which countenances the traffic of little girls across the sea, and the smuggling of death by
drugs, and the brutality of sweatshops turning out cheap garments by poverty-stricken labourers, and lofty pronouncements by arrogant men uncaring of the havoc caused by their actions.
Holes must be filled in: people are dying from lack of knowledge, lack of medicine, lack of water, lack of food, lack of hope.
But actually these radical changes won’t happen until there is a realisation that hearts must be changed; and hearts won’t be
changed until they know they need a Saviour. A voice says, “Cry out!” Whose voice? Those whose job it is, like John the Baptist, to represent Jesus. The ones who have recognised that Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away our sin, redeems us and puts a new heart within us. The Church.
In Paul’s day, they were known as people of The Way, a community who lived a different lifestyle. When they had been baptised, they
asked John the Baptist, “What shall we do?” He answered, “If you have two coats, give one to someone who
needs one”. To the tax collectors: “ Don’t collect more than the required amount”. To the soldiers: “Don’t extort money, or accuse people falsely, and be content with your pay”.
In other words, be willing to change your way of life! Later, as the groups of believers became established into churches, that is how
they were known: followers of the Way, who walked as Jesus walked. People who walked in darkness have seen a great light, and
become light in the Lord. Isaiah’s prophecy pointing forward to John the Baptist continued:
“All flesh is as grass”. It withers. People come and go, they are frail, mortal. But “The word of the Lord stands forever.” So the Word of
the Lord must be proclaimed, by word and deed, with clarity, direction, boldness. Get up on to a high mountain and announce,
“Here is your God!”
There is nothing wrong with footpaths and country rambles. They are good for health, for rest, for breathing! But they are not to be an end in themselves: our purpose here is to make Jesus known. Let’snot forget that. Enjoy the rambles, but at the same time, build a highway! The King is coming!