Second Sunday of Advent-December 5, 2021
Malachi 3:1-4, Philippians 1:3-11, Luke 3:1-6
Well, here we are, today is the 2nd Sunday in Advent. We’re one week closer to the big day! We have lit another candle on the Advent wreath, so the countdown is on! Christmas must be getting close now! Things are starting to get busy for a lot of us. Over the next couple of weeks or so, many of us have parties to attend, plans to make, goodies to bake, gifts to purchase, and it’s getting close to the time of the year that college students have final exams to prepare and take. In any case, each of these events involves some degree of preparation, and that’s the theme of the season of Advent. Preparing to celebrate Jesus’ coming into the world, both in his birth at Bethlehem those many years ago, and as we look ahead to His promised second coming.
Maybe by now, you’re starting to get a little bit anxious for Christmas to get here. For me and I imagine for many of us, it is the preparing and planning of holiday travel to see friends and family. In all your holiday travels, I wonder if you ever noticed the differences between old roads and new roads? The condition of the pavement– or the lack of it, how straight the road is, if it’s in a hilly area, how steep the terrain. All can be clues to the age of the road. Growing up with my father living in Corpus Christi and my mother living in Houston in my childhood I often got to travel every other weekend between these two cities. And now traveling from my home in Tomball to here at Christ the King, I often gotten a chance to experience the conditions of our roads.
Roads throughout our area have changed over time. At first wagons rode on rough roads through the prairie. Gradually the roads were made better, eventually becoming two-lane paved roads, which improved travel between the towns. In some places, two lane roads are widened to four lanes, making driving speedier and safer. We here in Houston can boast to have the widest highway in the United States, the Katy Freeway. With better engineering over the years, roads often become smoother, more level, and straighter, and travel becomes easier to our final destinations.
Every year we have opportunities to see road construction up close and personal, whether it’s a route somewhere close to home or a bit farther away, like the highways surrounding this congregation. When I’ve watched the process, roads are ripped up, widened, leveled, and smoothed out. It takes a lot of time and repeated effort, going over it again and again and again, until the road is right. Most of the time is spent preparing the foundation for the actual road. The final surface that we drive on seems to be the quickest part of the job.
I’m sure you noticed that road construction is not a quick fix. The part we see often takes about six months (or often years) to complete, and that doesn’t include the behind-the-scenes planning and preparation. The investment of time and resources is amazing.
In our Gospel text for today, the Gospel writer Luke reported that Isaiah had prophesied similar progress on another road. Paths would be made straight. Valleys would be filled in. Mountains and hills would be leveled out. Rough ways would be made smooth. On these improved roads, travel would become easier en route to our destination. The road that Isaiah described is the one we travel to greet the Prince of Peace, our Lord Jesus.
There is no denying that mountains, low places, and crooked paths exist— both in the world, and in our own lives. God tells us that the route to reaching the Prince of Peace can be a difficult road.
Along the way we encounter mountains. Our youth this summer experience traveling on these roads in the Rocky Mountains. How narrow the roads were as we drove up and down these roads, but our youth and our drivers handled them with care because of the community supporting our drivers. We all have our mountains to climb: racism, sexism, and class distinctions stand as barriers between people and peace in many places in our world. God calls us to work to serve as mountain guides to help our neighbors cross safely to the other side.
In between the mountains, we find ourselves in the low places. We come upon people who are depressed, lonely, in grief, in prison, anxious, and in need. All need to be raised up— through our prayers, through our fellowship, through our neighborly companionship. People fall into pits of poverty, holes of oppression, and swamps of enslavement. God calls us to fill those low places in and raise them up.
Given all the mountains and the low places in life that we cross through, it’s easy to see why Isaiah describes the way can be “crooked.” It can be tempting to try to travel around the obstacles in the road, and so our road can twist and turn, and become a winding road. Just like our road crews work straightening and repairing our roads all over Houston, God calls us to work at straightening the winding paths to God.
To do this work is to prepare the way for the Prince of Peace, and to begin to see the coming of God’s peace— God’s peace coming to our lives and our hearts. This path we are called to prepare is not through some pleasant and civilized place. Isaiah says that the path is straight through the wilderness. Not some tame wilderness that looks pretty and safe. This wilderness is dangerous.
The wilderness where we are called to make this path is the wilderness in our own hearts, and our own lives. The wilderness of sin. The wilderness of our own self-centeredness. The wilderness of our attraction to other things that society says are important, instead of being attracted to the One True God who is coming in the person of Jesus. This is the wilderness where God wants us to forge a straight path– a straight and level path between our hearts and God.
It’s here in the wilderness of our hearts that we meet God, not in some mythic promised land in our past or future. As we seek to straighten this road between our hearts and God, we may have to face some unwelcome changes. The plans for God’s new road may not match the road as it exists now. Or there may be no road there at all yet. We may have been putting off this major construction project. Sometimes it might look easier to just never begin this work.
In any case, there is no other time or place to come face to face with God. No other time or place than the here and now. If we are to come face to face with the Living God, we must do it in the middle of everything that already is our life.
The good news is that we don’t have to do all this work alone. God helps us as we work on this road. Jesus is already with us, giving us all we need to complete the work. Jesus makes our mountains of sin low. Jesus makes the unjustly rough places smooth.
No matter how rugged the wilderness of our hearts looks, God wants to build a road there. No matter how difficult the terrain, or how much special engineering might be necessary, God intends to build a highway there. Even if we think the
road looks fine, God has plans to improve it-– make it safer and faster and a more enjoyable ride. God wants us to have the best road. No matter how impossible the task.
God has experience in this kind of venture. God is used to opening a new path where before there wasn’t one. God parted the Red Sea for the Israelites to cross out of slavery in Egypt to freedom and a new life. God parted the River Jordan when Joshua and the Israelites crossed over to the Promised Land. God broke a new path through sin and death through an empty tomb in Jerusalem on Easter morning.
God, by his own goodness, can build a road through our hearts. God brings the materials required, and God brings the skill to do the work. No matter how great the investment required, God has the resources and the patience to get the job done. Let us work with Christ, so that we might arrive at our final destination, and see the Christ Child face to face. Amen.