Sermon – December 9, 2018 – Second Sunday of Advent


Prepare the Way of the Lord

My daughter was telling me about a classmate who was riding his bike to school on Pennyslvania the other day, hit a pothole, flipped his bike, shattered his helmet and broke his arm.  Yikes.  It’s tough out there.

Reminds me of a story I read in the Chicago Tribune that said about a third of the nation’s highways — interstates, freeways and major arterial roadways in urban areas — are in “poor” condition. This means they have so many major ruts, cracks and potholes that they can’t simply be resurfaced — they need to be completely rebuilt.

The worst roads in America are in Washington, D.C., where 92 percent of the major roadways are rated as “poor.

We spend hundreds of millions of dollars each year on the roads, but we aren’t keeping up. Like the promise of the railroads, our system of highways and interstates were meant to open 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 and broken down.  We lived near Houston for a time, and that traffic, congestion and seemingly undisciplined construction about broke us down.   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.

It’s becoming apparent that the worst and most territorial parts of us can come out when someone cuts us off, violates our highway space, or does something stupid which we find objectionable.  We even have a word for that now, road rage.  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, even as we hear this road talk, even as we prepare for the coming of our Lord.

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 or self-interest are finally more badly packed baggage, which leave us empty and unsatisfied.  They are the ruts and cracks and hazards of the journey.

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 the words of John.  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.   Rather, he spoke of the coming of the one through whom there would be fed and gathered and carried . . . where our penalty is paid and where the road is laid out evenly and smoothly before us, leading us out of our wilderness, leading us away from the exhausting struggle to break down every mountain. God prepares the road for us.  We don’t have to do this, God does it

The word that John brings us then and now is that it’s time.   Prepare to step on to that road that will lead us to peace and hope and forgiveness and eternal life.   Now, you prepare to encounter the builder of this road, the sustainer of this journey, the guide to this great adventure of faith.  And that preparation is not the arduous, fruitless construction of ever new roads leading to nowhere, but of simple repentance. This is knowing who we are and who God is and why Christ is.

“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 make an effort to share some time, some gift, some compassion with someone we know is struggling on the journey?   It’s tough out there.  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 raise our voice for a child, speak out the gospel of God’s love for all people, regardless of where they come from. Why don’t we even 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 with large consequences.   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 to be better travelers on God’s road.