Sermon – December 7, 2014 2nd Sunday of Advent

Second Sunday of Advent
Prepare the Way of the Lord

Have you been enjoying the progress of the reconstruction of Windsor Road?   It has been a slow go because of weather and other factors, but it is getting there.  Seeing the process up close reminds me what a miracle our road system is.  The U.S. has 4 million miles of roadways.  And on those roads, in 2010 according to government statistics, American travelers covered 2.9 trillion miles.  These roads go over mountains, cross rivers, descend deep valleys, take us from coast to coast or down the block.

It’s a fascinating side trip if you ever get the chance to stop and watch the process and the tools that these construction contractors use to build our roads.  They use massive machines that can plow through a granite hill, trucks full of dirt to fill the road to a proper level, miles and miles of steel rods to reinforce the integrity of the concrete, dozens of workers, and then these huge machines that pour the cement as they crawl down the carefully prepared roadbed, leaving everything so smooth and straight.

We’re good at building roads.    And as a consequence of their skill and efforts we have a pretty easy and safe journey from point a to point b.

It opened for us greater commerce, and leisure and mobility.  It is one of those things of progress we thought would solve many of our problem, and surely it has.   But it turns out these roads often are becoming obstacles in themselves, as they get more congested.  Chicago, which boasts a relatively modern highway system, has the dubious distinction of being one of the worst areas of gridlock in the nation.    Most of us have been stuck, sometimes for hours, in traffic congestion, and all of us have had that pleasant experience of someone cutting us off or tailgating us.   They might even share with us a variety of hand signals to thank us for sharing the road with them, as we proceed down our modern highways.  Or am I misunderstanding my sign language.  As our highways become more futuristic and modern, our behavior becomes more primitive.

Like many other things, we keep adding more and bigger as we continue to add capacity of our roadways, but it turns out that doesn’t solve the traffic problems, it rarely makes us more patient and compassionate people, and it certainly does not attend to the basic issues of how to unclutter our lives.  Bigger and more and better don’t attend to how we unclutter, slow down, be at peace, prepare, meet each day—and that is a useful wor–even as we hear this road talk from Scripture today as we prepare for the coming of our Lord.

It turns out that as we hurry along on our journeys, we discover that we might very well be on the wrong road, have taken a wrong turn.  That the roads of consumerism or materialism , nationalism, tribalism or self-interest are finally more badly packed baggage, which leaves us empty and unsatisfied.

It may be even as we think are on God’s road, we need to have the way smoothed out, evened out a little.  It may be that the map to our spiritual centers may have become torn and dog-eared, difficult to negotiate and the journey becomes one of confusion and wrong turns.

In this Advent season we are called to be prepared to travel a new road, the way made for us by the one who relieves these burdens, who makes our way straight as we follow him.   As we travel that road, as we prepare to meet the one on the other end, might we consider the fact that part of our journey is to be better travelers?

Maybe we need to rid ourselves of some baggage, seek some forgiveness, share more, love more, slow down, pray more.  Maybe we need to be better travelers.  Attend better to the rules of this road.

Too often, I’m afraid we often employ the tools of the construction engineer, plowing into the mountains that stand in our way with all the effort and energy we can muster, despairing when the mountain doesn’t move.   And we clamor with all the tools we can muster to strike yet another path, another road, trying to create our own superhighways.

But let’s go back to Isaiah.  He spoke of God constructing the road, leveling the high places and raising up the valleys.  Prepare the people for the gracious coming of his Son.   He spoke of the coming of the one who will tell us it doesn’t have to be this way, we don’t have to live a life engaged in an endless and fruitless struggle to conform the geography of this life to our own standards.  That can never be satisfying or ultimately, true.   Rather, he speaks of the coming of the one through whom we would be fed and gathered and carried . . . where our penalty is paid and where the road is laid out evenly and smoothly before us, showing us the way out of our wilderness, leading us away from the exhausting struggle to break down every mountain with our bare hands.

“Comfort, O comfort my people,” God said through Isaiah.  And I will make a path through their wilderness with a word and a love and a divine faithfulness that will never fade, even as the bloom goes off my people.”  God prepares the road for us.  We don’t have to do this. God does it.

That road will also to take us, accompanied by this faithful guide, face to face with our neighbor, whom we are destined to love and to serve.  This is especially important as this country today finds itself still in the midst of that wilderness, struggling down a road of racism and separation and unresolved conflict.  Now, more than ever, we pray for new directions, new vision, new conviction, new understanding, that is does not, must not, be this way, that we may find our way again on the path of community, forgiveness and hope.

John the Baptist, this eccentric prophet, preaching in the wilderness outside the confines of the orthodox, of the temple, of the familiar road, tells us, now is the time.   The future proclaimed is upon us.  Prepare to step on to that road that will lead us to peace and hope and forgiveness and eternal life.   Now,  prepare to encounter the builder of this road, the sustainer of this journey, the guide to this great adventure of faith.  Prepare to begin again and discover again that your preparation is not the arduous, fruitless construction of ever-newer roads leading to nowhere, but of simple repentance.  This is knowing who we are and who God is and why Christ comes.

“You shall know the truth and the truth shall make you odd!”, declared the writer Flannery  O’Connor.  The truth of the good news is that we can live life in gracious freedom, because Christ prepares our road through the cross.    All of those side roads and distractions and diversions cannot take us to that eternal truth.  As the weeks wind down for Christmas, why don’t we act a little oddly?  Why don’t we reflect on how our lives can make a difference in the lives of others, in Jesus name?  Why don’t we make an effort to share some time, some gift, some compassion with someone we know who is struggling on the journey?   Why don’t we remember these charities and these people who seek our help and generosity in the midst of all this indulgent shopping?  Why don’t we let someone ahead of us in traffic with a wave and a smile . .  So that their journey and ours may be a hair more loving and compassionate.   Why don’t we all act a little oddly and invite another onto this road.

These are short stops on the highway that God prepares for us, small consequences of his loving embrace of us weary travelers, but they bear life-giving results.   Be an odd messenger on this congested road.

Turns out the cure to what ails us is not to try to create our own superhighways, with our own tools and rules.  Sometimes the cure for us, the peace for us and for this troubled world, is to be better travelers on God’s road.