ISAIAH 40:1-11, PSALM 85, MARK 1:1-8
When you take a drawing lesson, you will probably do an interesting exercise. The teacher gives you a pencil drawn picture of a face of a person, and tells you to put it upside down, and to copy it as exactly as you see it, upside down. A human face doesn”t look like you think it should look, when you see it upside down. So you have to look at every millimetre of every line carefully and faithfully, to reproduce what you see. I guarantee you, it does not look like anything you know. Once you finish the drawing and put it rightside up, you will see a more accurate duplicate than the one you could draw looking at the picture right-side up. When you have a picture of a face right-side up, you do not look at the face in the picture as carefully as you should, because you think you know a human face looks like. But it is an assumption. Then, unconsciously you draw what you think a face should look like, and not what you really see.
Assumption often betrays truth. When you think you know, and start acting according to that belief, you can be completely unaware when you make mistakes. This point was made by the recent revelation of how badly three particular murder cases had been handled by the Canadian justice system. Three men were tried, found guilty, and incarcerated for crimes they did not commit. Donald Marshall, Guy-Paul Morin, and David Milgaard were found innocent by a confession of the witness who lied, in the case of Marshall, and DNA tests, for Morin and Milgaard, after spending decades in prison. In all three cases, the men who were really guilty were found and sentenced.
The whole justice system assumed that the guilty men had been caught. No one, in the Police, the Provincial prosecution services, the courts, or the Federal Justice Department had the intention of subverting justice. But the system had assumed those men”s guilt. Those three men were outsiders and stereotypical losers – the types of people easily assumed to be shady characters, if not criminals. Donald Marshall is a Micmac Indian, David Milgaard was a rebellious long haired teenager, and Guy-Paul Morin was a rare Francophone in South Western Ontario. They were all at the wrong places at the wrong time, when the crimes were committed. The whole justice system had assumed their guilt. So with all the resources available, the whole Canadian justice system went out of its way to build up the case against them. The Police and the courts believed they were right, so they did not see the point of looking at other evidence, which would have proved them wrong. Their minds were shut and they did not see other possibilities. Their minds were made up, and no facts could disturb their resolute.
From time to time, we all need to question assumptions to get to the truth. I believe that this is what the messages in Isaiah and Mark mean when they said, "Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God." It is like Curling. A heavy stone is slowly moving, and the sweepers must clear the way furiously. In the Bible, this action to clear the way is called repentance. Repentance is not just to say "I am sorry." It means completely clearing the mind of all assumptions and to start afresh with an open mind. You have to look at life up-side down, to rid yourself of biases and to see what life really is. It is not always easy to forget the old assumptions, and try something completely new with an open mind. All of us want to believe we have been right all along.
Both Isaiah and Mark spoke about calling people to repent in the wilderness. In the desert, nothing functions as you expect. When the path ahead looks completely safe, it may be a cover for a deadly hazard. You don”t take anything for granted in the desert. I was travelling in the Sahara on an uneventful boring day. Suddenly, the driver forced the gears into reverse and the Land Rover violently jerked backward. We had narrowly avoided quick sand. Even an experienced driver who travelled the desert thousands of times didn”t see a patch of quick sand. The wilderness is a dangerous place, because there you can not assume anything. Everything is unpredictable. Experienced explorers know that you must respect the desert and never take the wilderness for granted.
In our life too, we all run into "deserts" – times of life, when nothing looks familiar. It can be a happy experience or can be a sad one. It can be exhilarating or can be devastating. It is a very unsettling place to be. But it can also be a very creative place and time. Nobody knows what”s going to happen. Everybody is equal in the wilderness. All of us, poor or rich, can get lost. Thirst, hunger, loneliness, and heat hit everybody equally. Age, experience, wealth, social standing, and nationality don”t give you any advantage nor disadvantage over others. Successful persons can be humiliated because nothing they know or own is any good in the desert. On the other hand, you may find amazing strength to endure all sorts of difficulties among those people who are on the bottom of social scale. Like the prophesy of Isaiah predicts," All the dents of humiliation are filled and lifted, and all the bumps of arrogance is knocked down and levelled." In the wilderness, all are equal. Only those with open minds will survive and thrive in the desert. That is where and when Jesus Christ comes to meet with us.
Advent is time to learn about preparation. Isaiah said, "Prepare the highway in the wilderness for the Lord. Fill up the valley and knock down the rocky hills." In other words, we must sweep away the garbage of assumptions to keep an open mind, knock down the hills of arrogance, and fill up the valley of sagging spirits. That”s the way to prepare the way for Christ child.