December 3, 2016

Psalm 72:1-7, 18-19

Isaiah 40:1-11

John 1:19-28

A voice cries out:
“In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord,
make straight in the desert a highway for our God.

[Isaiah 40:3]

“Prepare” is the great theme of Advent. It is at the center of nearly everyone’s preoccupation at this time.  Everyone is preparing for Christmas, everyone is getting the cards ready, buying the presents, making sure that the cupboard is full.  “Preparation” is something we all understand.

But as Christians, we’re not just preparing for all that. We are preparing for Jesus. The Advent preparation we as Christians are given is described in the image of a road. We hear in the Old Testament reading from Isaiah that the path is to be made straight, the valleys to be filled in, the hills laid low, uneven ground made level and the rough places a plain.

The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther KIng, Jr.

If you’ve ever heard any recordings of speeches or sermons by the late Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, you can’t help but be drawn to this verse because of the rhythmic way King says it.

I hadn’t seen it as much more than pretty imagery. But when you think more about it, can you imagine how difficult it is to build a straight highway, lower a mountain, or level uneven ground?

Construction workers today do it all the time. But think about back in the prophets’ day, when there was no earth moving equipment. Those people had a difficult task. That work was usually done by slaves, or people who were looked down upon, regarded as less important by the rich and powerful of that time.

As Christians, we are the construction workers who are given the task of building the road of faith, or making straight the path of the lord. The job of modern day disciples during this season of Advent is to help point the way to Christ’s coming; and in so doing, deepen our own understanding of God’s way in our own lives, so that in God’s journey toward us and our journey toward God one doesn’t have to have one’s eyes fixed on the ground, but can look ahead confidently at the direction one is taking.

There are valleys and hills in our lives that need fixing, there are rough places that need to be made a plain. There is need for repentance and forgiveness. And the good news is that God is the greatest earth moving equipment that there is. It is God who plans the road we work on and walk on. And the work of levelling and smoothing that road is the work of God in, with, and through us. It is the work of the Spirit – the work of the comforter.

God has come to make things right for us. It is God who comes to make things straight by enduring the crookedness and unevenness of this world. It is God who makes straight the highway in the desert of our lives by sending us God’s Son. God continues to make level the ground of our lives and make the rough places in our lives a plain through the bread and wine we share. What is beyond us is not beyond God. 

We don’t have to be great evangelists, great pastors, or great expounders of the bible.  We don’t even have to be perfect.  We are simply called, through our baptism, to announce the good news and seek to live by the good news – and then get out of the way of others on their pathway to God.

Mother Teresa of Calcutta
Mother Teresa of Calcutta

I am reminded of a quote erroneously attributed to Mother Teresa of Calcutta.*

“People are unreasonable, illogical, and self-centered. Love them anyway. If you do good, people may accuse you of selfish motives. Do good anyway. If you are successful, you may win false friends and true enemies. Succeed anyway. The good you do today may be forgotten tomorrow. Do good anyway. Honesty and transparency make you vulnerable. Be honest and transparent anyway. What you spend years building may be destroyed overnight. Build anyway. People who really want help may attack you if you help them. Help them anyway. Give the world the best you have and you may get hurt. Give the world your best anyway.”

Or to paraphrase St. Francis, “Preach the Gospel. Use words if necessary.”

O God, the Spirit of truth, touch our hearts with the good news of your coming.  Fill us with desire for your soothing peace.  Stir in us the longing to proclaim your uncontrollable word and guide us along the way of your steadfast love and faithfulness. Amen

*The authentic author of the quote is Dr. Kent M. Keith. Originally titled, “The Paradoxical Commandments,” they were part of a booklet written for student leaders at Harvard University in 1968. You can learn more about the origin of this mistaken attribution by clicking HERE.

Published by pastorallende

Retired Bishop of the Northeastern Ohio Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA). Social justice and immigration reform advocate. Micah 6:8. Fluent in English and Spanish. I enjoy music and sports.

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