“A voice of one crying out in the desert:
“Prepare the way of the Lord,
make straight his paths.
Every valley shall be filled
and every mountain and hill shall be made low.
The winding roads shall be made straight,
and the rough ways made smooth,
and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.”
I realize how ironic it is that when I read this text, I can’t help thinking of the ways that the practice of mountaintop removal mining has disfigured the face of the land in Appalachia and destroyed the livelihood and health of its people—when the intent of the text is precisely the opposite.
In fact, this Gospel proclaims God’s salvation for all flesh—not just human beings—and thereby underscores the importance of integral ecology as a framework for Christian life. The crises of earth and the crises of humanity are intertwined, Pope Francis reminds us—and we can see this clearly in places like Appalachia, where industry has wielded power over not just economics and politics, but the air and water themselves and therefore the creatures and communities that depend on them.
In the same prophetic spirit as Mary’s magnificat, which appears a few chapters earlier in Luke, this Sunday’s Gospel offers an image that is the geological equivalent of casting down the powerful (like those figures named at the beginning of the chapter) from their high places and empowering the lowly and poor. It is a proclamation that preparing for the coming reign of Christ means transforming oppressive systems and crooked structures and lifting up all who are beaten down by them.
This is an important and noteworthy contrast: whereas “getting ready for the holidays” in our affluent culture often looks like eating more, buying more, driving more, and consuming more, preparing the way for Christ involves repenting of our human arrogance and our tendency to see ourselves as the pinnacle of creation. This Advent, may we prepare for the coming of Christ by lifting up the valleys and hollers and looking to the forgotten corners of Earth to bring about social change rooted in kinship and equality before God.
Jessica Wrobleski currently serves as vice president of mission at Saint Joseph Academy and is a member of the Board of Directors of the Jesuit Retreat Center in Cleveland, OH. Originally from West Virginia, she received her PhD from Yale University in 2009 and taught theology at Saint Mary’s College and Wheeling Jesuit University until 2019.