Advent, Day 8: Prepare Ye the Way

In those days John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness of Judea, proclaiming, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” 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 3:1–3

LOOK: Painted staircases by Xomatok

Xomatok stairway
Painted staircase by Xomatok (b. 1985), Lima, Peru, 2021. All photos by Jeremy Flores.

Xomatok stairway
Xomatok stairway

From Colossal:

Artist Xomatok translates the vibrant, geometric motifs of handwoven Andean blankets, or llicllas, into large-scale works that mark the pathways through the hilly Alisos de Amauta neighborhood in Lima, Peru. Painted during the course of two months as part of the Municipality of Lima’s Pinta Lima Bicentenario, the 13 interventions were a collaborative undertaking by the artist and local residents, who transformed the public staircases that wind through the district into multi-level canvases. The resulting patterns are kaleidoscopic and highlight a spectrum of bright colors and symmetries often associated with the traditional textiles.

View more photos.

LISTEN: “Prepare Ye the Way of the Lord” by Stephen Schwartz, from the musical Godspell (1971)

The following video clip is the opening sequence of the 1973 film adaptation of the stage musical Godspell, which stars David Haskell as John the Baptist:

So. much. joy!

The ram’s horn issues its call. Ballet dancer, student, struggling actress, waitress, cab driver, businessman, businesswoman, parking attendant—they all leave their jobs, casting off their workplace trappings to accept John’s invitation to new and abundant life. They meet him at The Angel of the Waters, a sculpted fountain in New York City’s Central Park. They throw themselves into the fountain like children, receiving their baptism, their initiation into the upside-down kingdom of God.

But John notices Jesus standing at a distance, stripped down and ready for his own baptism. John’s lighthearted visage turns heavy for a moment in recognition that Jesus’s baptism is into suffering and death.

I wrote about Godspell two years ago when I featured one of its songs, “Turn Back, O Man,” to go along with a lectionary reading from Ezekiel. The musical is wacky, with the ragtag disciples forming a comic troupe to act out Jesus’s parables and teachings from the Gospel of Matthew. Some Christians find it all too silly and irreverent. Others, like me, see it as capturing an important element of the Good News, which is joy. This is what Godspell’s creator, John-Michael Tebelak, wanted to get across.

Perhaps the festive tone of the opening number seems disjunctive with what we know of John from the Gospels—a desert ascetic who preached about vipers and axes and fire and winnowing forks, warning his hearers of the wrath to come. Point taken.

However, while his message is a sobering one, repentance need not be a dour affair. We must take honest stock of our sins, yes, laying them out in confession before God, but scripture assures us many times over of God’s pardon, and that’s something to rejoice in! There is a joy to repentance and to following the way of Christ. Turning off the death-road, onto the road of life. As we unload the burdens that have accrued on our backs, we are freed to walk upright once again.

“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” John cries out on the riverbank.

I’d encourage you to read that not as a threat but as an invitation. The kingdom of heaven is marked by grace and possibility. It’s a pearl, it’s a seed, it’s a feast. When we embrace the gospel, our cities become a playground where we enact the values of Christ, childlike as they be, preparing the world to receive her coming King.

5 thoughts on “Advent, Day 8: Prepare Ye the Way

  1. What a stunning juxtaposition to have the painted stair suggest ‘prepare the way’. love it. How did you ever find them?

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    1. I follow the blog COLOSSAL, and they featured these artworks by Xomotok last year. At the time I was working on a piece on John the Baptist, and I instantly thought of the passage about paving the way for the Lord, making straight his paths! They remind me of a carpet being rolled out for royalty, so I thought of Christ descending to us (as if down a royal staircase) in the Incarnation.

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  2. Thank you so much for this post. It is beautiful. I’m a Presbyterian pastor and I’m preaching this morning on that verse of John the Baptist in Matthew, and I’m delivering a similar message about the invitation more than the shame of repent. I was loved by your words : > > The kingdom of heaven is marked by grace and possibility. It’s a pearl, it’s a seed, it’s a feast. When we embrace the gospel, our cities become a playground where we enact the values of Christ, childlike as they be, preparing the world to receive her coming King. > I will quoting you with these words in my sermon. Thank you.

    Grace upon Grace, Laura Rasmussen

    Sent from my iPhone

    >

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  3. I am loving your Advent series again this year! The artwork and music combos are brilliant! I somehow entirely missed Godspell’s magic until watching this video and then listened to the entire album of the 1971 London cast. Pure joy! The Monty Python type accents and silliness make it even more joyful and fun.

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