A voice cries out: Thunder in the desert!
“Prepare for God’s arrival!
Make the road straight and smooth,
a highway fit for our God. Fill in the valleys,
level off the hills, Smooth out the ruts,
clear out the rocks.
Then God’s bright glory will shine
and everyone will see it.
Yes. Just as God has said.”
Isaiah 40:3-5 (The Message)
“You say you care about the poor. Tell me, what are their names?”
It gets so hard
Just trying to figure it out, fighting doubt
Tryna believe God
Tryna watch the words of my mouth, stay on the route
Troubles come and go
Even on the mountain high or the valley low
Never let your faith go
Never let your faith go…
We gon’ be alright
Tell ’em, tell ’em
We gon’ be alright
“Alright” by Kendrick Lamar
In his 2015 Grammy winning project, hip-hop artist, Kendrick Lamar reminds those who have been on the bottom of the oppressive systems of the world that, “We Gon Be Alright!” Peruvian theologian and Dominican priest Gustavo Guttierrez encourages us to adjust the way we interact with one another: not to spend our time only caring for one another, but to spend more time being with one another. In my opinion, this only happens when we see one another as true equals. I believe the radical message of the gospel, when seen correctly, is truly the great equalizer, pointing us to places where equity needs to be practiced due to historically unequal systems and structures.
In our passage, we get a glimpse of the prophet Isaiah proclaiming the entrance of the presence of God. The ground will be leveled off, any debris on the path cleared, and the roads made straight and smooth. The hills and mountains will be excavated, and the soil and rocks dumped into the valleys until the ground is level. The high places are brought down and the low places are brought up so that the road is even and the glory of God can shine.
This message of bringing the high down and the low up is echoed throughout Christ’s ministry, as well. In Matthew 19:16, Jesus meets a young, wealthy man looking for answers. He asks, “What good deed must I do to have eternal life?” After affirming his response to follow the commandments, Jesus encourages him to sell everything he has, give the money to the poor, and then follow him. Here we see someone who has traditionally been lifted high be brought down to the level of total dependence on Jesus.
In Luke 8:40-56, a woman suffering for years with uncontrollable hemorrhaging makes up her mind that if she could just touch the very tip of Jesus’ robe, she would be healed. She presses through the crowd, reaches out her hand, and snags the very edge of his robe. Immediately, she is healed of her issue. Jesus asks who touched him and she jumps up, admitting what she did. Jesus’ response to her is simple: “Your faith has made you whole.” There was nothing extra she needed to do. Someone who traditionally had been made low was lifted up through her total dependence on Jesus.
Scripture offers us many other examples of Jesus challenging the rich and powerful, where those who found themselves marginalized by society were lifted up because of their total reliance on God. This is good news to the poor and marginalized—a true gospel as the great equalizer.
This advent season, before we start “caring for the poor” through our soup kitchens and toy giveaways, I suggest we take inventory of our own dependency so that our posture can be equalized. Maybe if this happens, we won’t have fleeting moments of care for people we don’t know, but in the spirit of Guttierrez, crank up some Kendrick and chant, “We Gon Be Alright!” with friends we know by name, not just societal status.
Jonathan Brooks is a lifelong resident of Chicago, IL and currently serves as Senior Pastor at Canaan Community Church in the West Englewood neighborhood and as an educator on many different levels. As a firm believer in investing in your local community, Jonathan has a deep desire to impress this virtue on the students and young people in his congregation, classroom and community. He is married to Micheál Newman-Brooks and has two beautiful children. You can learn more at pastahj.com