Prepare the way of the Lord

Our advent isn’t about Jesus coming to us – it is about Jesus accompanying us on our journey of faith.  It is the advent of our salvation.  Its ultimate manifestation, which entered the world with Jesus’ birth, is when Christ takes root in our lives and we begin our own journey home. 


Baruch 5:1-9; Luke 3:1-6


From my experience as a long haul truck driver, there are only two seasons in the year: winter and road construction.  Lane drop signs, pavement littered with orange cones or concrete barricades, mile on mile of grooved pavement stripped of its asphalt covering make getting there frustrating.  Of course torrential rain, ice, snow, fog and a windshield covered in bugs or mud can add excitement to a well knows stretch of highway.  What can seem like interminable sitting on the roadway while the are clearing away an accident or a rock slide can make you wonder why you made the effort.  I’ve lived in a couple of places where the coming of the President of the United States ‘incentized’ city officials to plug pot holes and police the right of ways of debris at least between the airport and city hall.


The two scripture lessons I want us to look at today are invitations to reflect on highway construction and maintenance.  Seemingly it is only once in every three years that we make a foray into a book of the Apocrypha but in the beginning of the of the last chapter of the book which carries the name of Jeremiah’s best friend, Baruch, we are presented with an emotional scene.  Jerusalem, grieving like a parent who has lost their child, is told to stand on the heights in order to see God leading their scattered children home.  The road back has been repaired, impassably high mountains have bowed down and the ditches and the impossibly deep gorges filled in.   Listen to the text from the Contemporary English Version:

1 Jerusalem, take off the clothes that show you are sad and mourning. Put on the beautiful clothes of God’s bright glory and never take them off! 2 Wear the robe of God’s justice and the crown of his eternal power. 3 God will let every nation on earth see your brightness, 4 and he will give you this new name forever: “Right-Living-Brings-Peace and Faith-in-God-Brings-Honor.”5 

So stand on top of the mountain and look east. Our Holy God has gathered your children from the east and the west, and they are celebrating because he hasn’t forgotten them. 6 Their enemies forced them to leave on foot, and now God will bring them back to you with great honor, as if they were kings being carried on beautiful thrones. 7 He has commanded every high mountain and ancient hill to be made low, and every valley to be filled up, so that the people of Israel can return home safely on level ground. They will show God’s glory to the world. 8 God has commanded every forest and every sweet-smelling tree to shade the Israelites 9 as he leads them home, and they will celebrate and shout for joy on their way. The brightness of God’s own glory will guide them, and his mercy and justice will go with them.


Luke draws on a similar passage from Isaiah when he writes:  For 15 years Emperor Tiberius had ruled that part of the world. Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was the ruler of Galilee. Herod’s brother, Philip, was the ruler in the countries of Iturea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias was the ruler of Abilene. 2Annas and Caiaphas were the Jewish high priests. At that time God spoke to Zechariah’s son John, who was living in the desert. 3 So John went along the Jordan Valley, telling the people, “Turn back to God and be baptized! Then your sins will be forgiven.” 4 Isaiah the prophet wrote about John when he said, “In the desert someone is shouting, ‘Get the road ready for the Lord! Make a straight path for him.5 Fill up every valley and level every mountain and hill. Straighten the crooked paths and smooth out the rough roads.6 Then everyone will see the saving power of God.’ “


It’s like the road construction you encounter if you drive I-90 over Snoqualmie.  Mountains and hills are being excavated and using the materials to fill in the valleys, making curvy roads less so.  I try to imagine what the earliest anglo settlers thought as they attempted to bring their covered wagons filled with all their stuff through that terrain to the other side.


When Isaiah spoke in chapter 40 he reported:  Someone is shouting:“Clear a path in the desert! Make a straight road for the LORD our God.4 Fill in the valleys; flatten every hill and mountain. Level the rough and rugged ground.5 Then the glory of the LORD will appear for all to see. The LORD has promised this!” and in chapter 45 he shared this promise:  As I lead you, I will level mountains and break the iron bars on bronze gates of cities.


In both these passages Isaiah was telling the people who had been carried off into captivity that God would lead them home just like God led the children of Israel out of Egyptian bondage, through wilderness and into the promised land.  The promised land was the place to which God had earlier led Abram and it was the land his progeny called home.  Now they were assured that all obstacles would be removed so this could be accomplished. 


When it came to telling the story of Jesus Luke connects Jesus’ inconoclastic cousin, John, who lived in the wilderness of Judea with that voice shouting out to ‘clear a path in the desert! Make s straight road for the Lord our God’.  It is no great leap to grasp Luke’s implication that if John is the voice then Jesus is the one leading the people back home.


Now, there is a new wrinkle for our travel plans.  These passage aren’t about leaving home to go someplace – they are about returning to the place we call home, the place of welcome, where we can be who we are.  One of Jesus’ most comforting parables is about a wayward child who comes home.  There is that other, about a wayward lamb he brings back to the fold.  You see, unlike what you might expect of an advent scripture text it does not focus on Jesus coming to us but rather his accompanying us.  He leads us home to salvation.  Because there are substantial obstacles in our paths road construction is necessary.  This isn’t the kind of road repair that can be avoided by asking our spiritual Tom Tom to give us an alternate route.  And it’s not as if we are on our own to carefully negotiate our way through the reconstruction like a mountaineer trekking across a snow field .


We are not always the best able to identify those things that are in our way, thing that could be disastrous and which need to be removed.  What are the pot holes in our lives that leave us spiritually out of alignment or worse yet upside down in a ditch?  Could we be nurturing some deep-seated resentment, are we given to fault finding, maybe an unwillingness to forgive or a lack of integrity in our dealings with others.  It may not seem to be good news at the outset but that is the first work of the Holy Spirit in our lives.  The Light of Christ comes, not as a brightly shining star over a Bethlehem stable but as a search light that shines its beam in our lives, it seeks out the stuff of our lives that have grown moldy, the attitudes that have turned rancid and the behaviors that our destructive to our selves and to others.  And the result is like you feel after you’ve cleaned out the refrigerator and it looks fresh and bright and smells clean again.  It was George Fox’s experience that the whole world had a delightful fragrance.  And once the quantity of that old stuff that we’ve been hoarding has been reduced there is room for some new gifts that Christ gives us, new attitudes and behaviors that are pleasing to God’s kingdom and to our sense of self.


And this is not true for individuals alone but for a community as well.  But it may convict us of the inhumanity of our city not opening warming shelters for street people until the mercury drops to seventeen degrees.  We may find it needful to encourage our elected representatives who go to Olympia for us to ensure that an adequate safety net is still in place for the most vulnerable of our neighbors once they have completed their work on balancing the state’s budget or even offering assistance to the Pasco dairy workers who were fired for trying to improve their working conditions.


The image of Jerusalem standing on the heights yearning for the return of those who were taken off into captivity was a great encouragement to the returnees as they journeyed back home.  The city they loved so dearly was clothed in the ‘splendor of glory from God…wrapped in the cloak of justice – you can’t separate your own salvation from justice for others.  The image held out to us is no less resplendent.  It is the new Jerusalem, the new city of peace and justice, the reign of God on earth.  The journey back to that city may be tedious and trying and the obstacles we encounter on the way may seem overwhelming, but Christ’s spirit leads us just as God’s presence as smoke and fire led the Israelites.  Our faith assures us of this, and we have the Apostle Paul to spur us on:  “ I am confident”, he wrote, “that the one who began a good work in you will continue to complete it”.


Our advent isn’t about Jesus coming to us – it is about Jesus accompanying us on our journey of faith.  It is the advent of our salvation.  Its ultimate manifestation, which entered the world with Jesus’ birth, is when Christ takes root in our lives and we begin our own journey home. 

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