“This is the one of whom the prophet Isaiah spoke when he said, ‘The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.’” (Matthew 3:3)
Advent begs us to notice how God’s power shows up most for people in the wilderness rather than those ensconced in the halls of power. This text calls John the Baptist a voice in the wilderness. He is not only preparing the way for the Lord Jesus but also teaching his followers that all of us pave God’s entry by standing with those who weep with no place to call home. Later in the passage, John criticizes religious leaders who have aligned their interests with Rome’s brutal empire, rather than with those who have been marginalized by such regimes.
Last summer near the minuscule town of Sasabe, Arizona (population: 54), I found myself driving down a rutted road far from cell towers on the Arizona-Mexico border in a desert wilderness like none I have ever seen. I was there with a group called the Tucson Samaritans who frequently rescue stranded migrants driven to our border by destabilizing economic, climate, and drug war policies. These refugees in my view are heroes, fighting their way through a treacherous wilderness only to find themselves demonized by politicians and hunted down by militia groups and QAnon conspiracists drawn to the borderlands by hateful disinformation campaigns.
As I worked on the border, I came home to news of refugees fleeing Mariupol, Ukraine. My heart was besieged with both grief and awe as I listened to Ukrainian stories of determination in resisting a ruthless invader who, like one of our own former presidents, has aligned with Christian Nationalism to justify his autocratic rule.
From the wilderness of Judea to Sasabe to Mariupol, humanity groans and bends resolutely like a light-starved vine toward even the faintest glimmer of God’s vision that we can live together without violence, embracing an inclusive love that reconciles everyone — even one’s perceived enemies. This ancient wisdom, encapsulated in all religious teachings, has enabled human beings to strive and not give up, no matter what lying, hate-filled autocrats say and do.
Jesus himself would be visited by Magi sent by Herod to reveal the Messiah’s whereabouts; then forced to flee, ironically, to Egypt, the original land of biblical oppression. Today the United States, like Egypt, must face its legacy of slavery to become a land of refuge rather than oppression.
During the Advent season, we are reminded that our hope resides in joining the cloud of witnesses who have prepared the way by paving roads through the wildernesses of human existence so that all might thrive. This season, may these texts help align you with refugees, knowing God walks in their midst. Pray and discern how you might join the long lineage of those who found God in such spaces by drawing near to those in need.
Rev. Jennifer Butler is the founder in residence of Faith in Public Life, a network of faith leaders united in the pursuit of justice. She is the author of Who Stole my Bible? Reclaiming Scripture as a Handbook for Resisting Tyranny, which makes a biblical case for multi-faith, multiracial democracy in the face of rising White Christian Nationalism and authoritarianism in the U.S. and around the world. For more on Butler, visit RevJenButler.com or follow her on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram.