The Word invites us to “prepare.” What are we preparing for? How do we prepare? We are preparing the way of the Lord. That means we are preparing for the Lord to come. How are we supposed to prepare for the Lord to come? The Church tells us that there are “three” comings of Christ the Lord. The first coming, in the literal sense of the the words of Isaiah’s prophesy, happened when Jesus Himself came in the flesh. The first coming is the incarnation, where God, the second person of the Holy Trinity, united himself to our human nature in the womb of the Virgin Mary and was born a man like us in all things but sin. The second coming has yet to take place. Christ will come in glory at the end of time, when the world will end, and at that coming He will judge everyone according to what they have done. His judgment will be merciful, but it will be terrible. The third coming – even though we don’t hear about it as the “third coming” in the scriptures – is another kind of coming of Christ that the Church teaches. The third coming of Christ happens all the time, but it is invisible whereas the first and second coming are visible. If we learn how to prepare for the first and second comings of Christ, we are preparing ourselves for His frequent invisible visits to our soul.
The first coming was a tremendously joyful coming, it wasn’t the result of any human plan or goal. God Himself came in the flesh when the time was right, but He told us many times throughout the scriptures in the words of the prophets to prepare for His coming. We could not have known what this coming would mean exactly, we could not have known when it would happen, but we were expected to prepare for it. Every mountain will be made low – in other words, every kind of interior excess of vice needs to be leveled out. Physical mountains are no obstacle to God, but the spiritual mountains of pride that we construct in our souls will block God’s way. A spiritual mountain of selfishness, or a hill of impurity, or a butte of anger – those must be removed so that nothing obstructs the path to our heart. St. John the Baptist helps us understand how necessary it is to prepare for the coming of Christ by repentance. He doesn’t need us to build a temple, he needs us to remove iniquity in the way of our heart. Not only must we level our vices, we must also fill in our valleys. The valleys represent our lack of love, lack of generosity, lack of compassion. These valleys need to be filled in or else there will be an abyss of selfishness the Lord will be unable to pass.
The good news is that the Lord is coming, every day, in many hidden ways. He is coming to save us and we know that we desperately need His help. If we remove the obstacles and fill in the empty places of our souls, we will be prepared for his joyful coming. May the Holy Spirit inspire our hearts to the conversions we need to welcome the Lord soon!
It therefore behooves you, on hearing those words of his, to encourage those who have offended and lead them to repentance. Give them hope that it is not in vain that you enter into their situation of sin, because you love them. Readily receive those who are penitent and rejoice over them. Judge the sinners with mercy and compassion. For if somebody was walking beside the river and ready to stumble, and you pushed him and threw him into the river, instead of offering him your hand to help, you would be guilty of murdering your brother or sister. Instead, you should lend a helping hand when they’re ready to fall. Otherwise they will perish without anyone to help. And you do this so that the people watching are warned and so that the offenders may not utterly perish. It is your duty, O bishop, neither to overlook the sins of the people nor to reject those who are penitent so that you may not unskillfully destroy the Lord’s flock or dishonor his new name, which he has imposed on his people. And you yourself should also be above reproach as those ancient pastors were of whom God speaks to Jeremiah and others.1
There is also another type of consolation to those who remove heavy punishments, as you have it written in the book of Isaiah: “Comfort, comfort my people,” says the Lord. “Priests, speak to the heart of Jerusalem, comfort it, for its humiliation is complete, its sin is removed, for it has received from the Lord’s hand double for its sins.” Although faith was lacking, punishment makes good; those who are not absolved by the praise of merits are relieved by the removal of punishments.2
The Lord wants to find in you a path by which he can enter into your souls and make his journey. Prepare for him the path of which it is said, “Make straight his path.” “The voice of one crying in the desert”—the voice cries, “prepare the way.”3
Now the way of the Lord is made straight in two ways: by contemplation, which is clarified by truth unmixed with falsehood, and by activity, which follows sound contemplation of the appropriate action to be taken, which is conformed to the correct sense of these things to be done.4
THEODORET OF CYR:
The true consolation, the genuine comfort and the real deliverance from the iniquities of humankind is the incarnation of our God and Savior. Now the first who acted as herald of this event was the inspired John the Baptist. Accordingly, the prophetic text proclaims the realities that relate to him in advance, for that is what the three blessed Evangelists have taught us and that the most divine Mark has even made the prologue of his work. As for the inspired John, whom the Pharisees asked whether he himself was the Christ, he declared on his part: “I am ‘the voice of one crying in the wilderness, Make straight the way of the Lord’ ” as the prophet Isaiah said;10 I am not God the Word but a voice, for it is as a herald that I am announcing God the Word, who is incarnate. Moreover, he refers to the Gentiles as the “untrodden [land]” because they have not yet received the prophetic stamp.5
There it is written, “a voice of one crying in the wilderness,” the Word is conceived in the virgin’s womb. If the voice is not the Word, it is then a loud clanging of metal. For one then would not be able to say that every word is a sound but not every sound is a word. For it is not unfitting to take “the way” as that which came up to the very heart and filled us inwardly. Indeed, the heart became his place to which he comes and remains.6
- CONSTITUTIONS OF THE HOLY APOSTLES 2.15. Elliott, M. W. (Ed.). (2007). Isaiah 40–66 (p. 2). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
- EXPOSITION OF PSALM 118.18.2. Elliott, M. W. (Ed.). (2007). Isaiah 40–66 (p. 3). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
- HOMILIES ON THE GOSPEL OF LUKE 21.5. Elliott, M. W. (Ed.). (2007). Isaiah 40–66 (p. 4). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
- COMMENTARY ON THE GOSPEL OF JOHN 6.103. Elliott, M. W. (Ed.). (2007). Isaiah 40–66 (p. 4). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
- COMMENTARY ON ISAIAH 12.40.3. Elliott, M. W. (Ed.). (2007). Isaiah 40–66 (pp. 4–5). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
- SERMON 289. Elliott, M. W. (Ed.). (2007). Isaiah 40–66 (p. 5). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.