Yesterday my children and I took a trip into Manchester. It was wildly busy as always streets filled with people especially around market street. It’s pretty much guaranteed around market street to see groups of people asking for petitions to be signed, surveys to be filled in etc and there is always one or two religious street preachers who feel that this is the place to state their theological position on certain matters.
As I walked through with my children we came across three different street preachers. One stated that everyone was brainwashed by Satan with a huge sign, another ran through the crowd singing “he’s got the whole world in his hands” and another was sharing his viewpoint on all sexual relationships.
As today is second Sunday of Advent we think about the prophets that prepared the way of the Lord, and as I observed these three different individuals that I came across in Manchester I wondered why anyone would want to come to church at all if this what people saw every day!
We wandered into St Ann’s square and went to see the sculpture of the homeless Jesus outside St Ann’s church. There in the stillness I watched my son approach the sculpture and put his fingers into the wounds of Jesus’ feet, he peered into the hooded face, and we looked at this depiction of the son of God cold, alone, and vulnerable.
Here I saw the Christmas story and the Easter in one moment.
Jesus born into the poverty of a stable, vulnerable, fragile, wrapped in whatever could be found for warmth, with his tired homeless parents, and Jesus dying hanging on a cross, cold, alone, vulnerable.
The Gospel today proclaims prepare the way of the Lord make his paths straight.
This is the Lord that we are preparing the way for, one who came to us in utter vulnerability, in humility, as Isaiah pours out in poetic proclamation, Jesus is the shoot of hope that came from the cutting down of the tree, the root that stands as a signal to the peoples, and as the psalmist declares, he defends the poor among the people, delivers the children of the needy.
This is the signal that needs to be proclaimed, this is how we prepare the way of the Lord, not by shaming people into tick box criteria, something that John the Baptist sees in the Pharisees and the sadducees, John echos the prophet Isaiah, the axe is lying at the root of the trees of power and control, freedom is coming, and it is time to keep watch by living out the way that Jesus came to us, through indwelling, being with us, drawing us into his humble hope.
After being with the sculpture we continued around town and made sure we spoke to the rough sleepers we came across, we gave money and company, one man had his head in his hands and when we put in some money he looked up surprised. He said he felt invisible, that he mattered to no one, that his mistakes had defined him and his future.
His words stuck with me, how in this world can we have people who feel invisible? How can we have children going to bed at night cold and hungry, how can we have an epidemic of loneliness, isolation, how?
I don’t have the answers to how to fix any of this. But Jesus does. The prophets saw that he was coming, someone, a king, one who baptises in fire and the Holy Spirit.
That fire, that majesty, is the zeal, the want, the urge to do something to engage with the mission of God, to lift up the lowly, to defend the poor, to deliver the children of the needy.
This is the king that we prepare the way for, the one wrapped in rags for warmth, in the stench of a stable, the one stripped and beaten, pierced and hung, this is the king that we prepare for the one who gave everything for love.
The earth will be full of the knowledge of the lord, the path made way of hope.
The hope that burst from the womb and the tomb.
The love that came down and opened his arms wide upon the cross.
In this second week of Advent can we think about what trees that we need to cut down in our lives to enable a clear way for Jesus to come?
What new shoots are waiting to sprout from those stumps?
What stones are waiting to be split by the Lord?
What placards do we need to put down and which people can we pick up and hold close?
Prepare the way of the Lord.