Summary: The highway we travel as Christians needs timely and appropriate maintenance.

Fill the Potholes

Pastor Roger Shervington

Community Presbyterian Church

El Monte, CA

2nd Sunday of Advent (C)

10 December 2006

This morning, we continue our Advent journey towards the joy and celebration of Christmas while not forgetting that we also celebrate the promise of our Lord’s return. Our Gospel lesson this morning is from the third chapter of the Gospel according to Luke, beginning at the first verse. I’ll be reading from the New Revised Standard Version. Let’s listen to God’s word to us.

Luke 3:1-6 In the fifteenth year of the reign of Emperor Tiberius, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was ruler of Galilee, and his brother Philip ruler of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias ruler of Abilene, 2 during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness. 3 He went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, 4 as it is written in the book of the words of the prophet Isaiah, "The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ’Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. 5 Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth; 6 and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.’"

This is the word of the Lord. Thanks be to God!

“Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.” Now there’s something that gets me really stirred up: road construction. You see, highways are in my blood; I earn much of my living from highway or roadway construction. This 210 freeway north of here was one of my projects between La Verne and Fontana a few years ago. I come by it naturally. My dad was a highway engineer.

My dad started working with the then-California Division of Highways right after he completed his studies at Berkeley Polytechnic Institute in 1928. He started out as a junior draftsman in Eureka and, 33 years later, had worked his way upward to become the assistant District Engineer. In 1961, Dad was again promoted and transferred to Bishop where he finished his career as the District Engineer, finally retiring in 1971 after nearly 44 years with the Division.

My mom and dad married in 1947 and soon were expecting me. Dad figured he needed to go after promotions so that he could afford this new family of his so he sat for the state registration exam for civil engineering, the same exam that his son would sit for some 23 years later. Dad posted the highest score in the state for that exam; his son managed to pass.

Many of my earliest memories are of Dad taking me out into the field with him to look over highway construction or maintenance projects. I was inquisitive and pestered him with tons of questions which he patiently answered. He even took me to construction equipment shows around Eureka and passing by one of those sites a couple of weeks ago prompted a confession out of me that Sandy had never heard.

When I was about 10 years old, Dad and I went to an open house being held by one of the local contractors. There were lots of yellow tractors parked in their yard that had been cleaned up for the occasion. While Dad talked with some other men, I did what any reasonably normal 10-year old boy would do – I climbed up on a bulldozer and started pulling levers and stepping on pedals while going vrmmmm, vrmmmm. After a while I looked down and discovered that some fool had left the key in the dozer. Hmmm! OK, I did what any other reasonably normal 10-year old boy would do given the chance and turned the key. It started! VRMMMM! Cool! That’s when I discovered that you could start those old Cats in gear. The darned thing started moving out across the yard. Oi vey! I again did what any reasonably normal 10-year old boy would do in the circumstances – I bailed out! I jumped off that contraption, put my hands in my pockets, and casually walked away from the scene of the crime. What tractor? I dunno who started it! The dozer, with several men in pursuit, idled across the yard until it stalled out on a large pile of dirt. Dad didn’t notice the commotion, or if he did, didn’t say anything about it, but I’m sure he was aware what was going on. He just played it cool. Either that or he didn’t want to admit that his idiot son was the source of all that excitement. Sandy said, "I’ve known you for 44 years and that’s the first time I’ve heard that story." Oh, well...

Anyway, straightening and building highways is in my blood. That’s why I always perk up when I hear that quote from the prophet Isaiah, “Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.”

Speaking of roads, have you ever noticed that some roads seem to last forever and some roads seem to deteriorate rapidly? The difference is largely timely and appropriate maintenance. Before every rainy season, cracks in the pavement should be blown out and sealed to prevent water from getting into the subgrade soils and causing a progressive type of failure which results in ever-expanding potholes. Likewise, potholes need to be filled or otherwise repaired before the rainy season. Timely and appropriate maintenance can extend the service life of a pavement far beyond the 20 years that they design for. But ignore maintenance and the problems escalate geometrically. You’ve got to take care of pavements if you expect them to last.

Our Christian journey requires that we travel along the highway or path of faith to get to our destination. This highway or path of faith is not necessarily straight and level. There are curves, hills, valleys, steep grades and a lot of potholes. At times, this highway or path of faith can be terribly rough with bone-jarring potholes or sharp unexpected curves. In many ways, this Christian highway or path of faith is similar to any other roadway in Southern California in that it requires timely and appropriate maintenance.

As with the physical roadways we travel every day, this highway or path of faith periodically develops cracks. These cracks can result from either overload or environmental stresses and are normal and unavoidable. We spoke briefly about maintaining the highways and byways that we travel every day, so now let’s talk about something much more important: maintaining the highway or path of faith. What do we do when these cracks in the highway or path of faith appear and how do we fix them and prevent them from becoming progressive failures which develop into potholes? How do we keep this well-traveled path of faith smooth and in good condition so that it will last its intended lifetime?

As I said, cracks periodically form in the highway or path of faith. This is normal and unavoidable. The cause of these cracks can be traced to doubt, stress, worry, anxiety or neglect. Timely and appropriate maintenance includes regular worship, praise, confession, hearing God’s word from Holy Scripture, and fellowship with other believers. Every Sunday, we gather here together to do our part in the maintenance of the highway or path of faith that we are traveling. And just like the highways and byways of Southern California, we aren’t traveling that highway or path of faith alone. We have each other, and we have the path that has been laid out for us by that ultimate engineer, the Creator himself.

But what if, like the California highway system under the Jerry Brown administration (I’m allowed one political comment), this vital maintenance is neglected, strike that, ignored for years and our highway or path of faith deteriorates a degree that seems beyond maintenance? Do we just throw up our hands and decide that we don’t need to go wherever that road was taking us? NO! We fix the problem, and sometimes that involves complete reconstruction. But we can handle this. We know how to rebuild these things, all it takes is time and effort and inspiration. When our highway or path of faith has deteriorated to the point that it more closely resembles some wilderness goat trail than a nice smooth superhighway, then we need to rebuild and the best way to rebuild that highway or path of faith is to come back to church and to participate in the life of the Christian community.

When we start thinking about construction, we always seem to conjure up images of big, strong men. Some years ago one of the major denominations, I don’t remember if it was United Methodist or United Church of Christ or Lutheran, it doesn’t matter, but one of these denominations sponsored a billboard campaign. These billboards illustrated six big men carrying a casket up the front steps into a church. The caption read, “Will it take six strong men to bring you back to church?” Food for thought.

We are now well into the Advent season. Two more weeks until we get to sing the Christmas carols, although we may start early. Counting today, we have fifteen more shopping days until Christmas. Into those fifteen days, we seem to need to cram in a month or more of work. Somehow, we’ll make it. We always do. And maybe, just maybe, we’ll get to enjoy the holiday this year instead of getting caught up in the frenzy of last-minute shopping and wrapping. I hope so.

We are well along the Advent road to Christmas, but guess what? There’s a huge yellow sign in front of us that says, “Road Construction Ahead. Proceed With Caution.” Yep! Maintenance and reconstruction operations are well underway, trying desperately to beat the rainy season and get the work done. Here in Southern California, the rainy season is already upon us and patching the cracks and filling the potholes in our streets may now be too little too late. But in our hearts, as we struggle to maintain or rebuild the highway or path of faith, it’s never too late. You see, our Risen Lord has engineered our salvation and has built for us a road to travel on our journey to eternal life with him. But we have to do our part. We have to take care of that highway or path of faith with timely and appropriate maintenance. We need to clean out and fill the cracks and potholes of life and we do that by regularly strengthening and maintaining our faith here, in worship and in praise and in God’s word to us.

Advent is a time of preparation, a time to anticipate, a time to share, a time to love, and a time to work on that highway or path of faith. My friends, as we prepare for our Lord’s coming and his eventual return, we are invited to open our hearts and our lives to the healing maintenance and construction of our Risen Lord and Savior. Let Christ put up the “Road Construction Ahead” signs and let’s marvel at and participate in his work. Let us “Prepare the way of the Lord,” and “make his paths straight” so that we and others can travel the highway or path of faith and arrive at eternal life with Jesus.

We do not make this journey of life alone. Our Risen Lord goes with us, to support and encourage us, and to change the topography of our hearts as we seek to be more and more conformed to the likeness of Jesus Christ. Praise God that we have a Savior who walks with us, supporting and keeping us in the midst of all our construction and maintenance operations, so that at the day of his return, we can truly rejoice as we, with all creation, witness his glorious return.

The Apostle Paul wrote to the Philippians, “And this is my prayer, that your love may overflow more and more with knowledge and full insight to help you to determine what is best, so that in the day of Christ you may be pure and blameless, having produced the harvest of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ for the glory and praise of God.” (Philippians 1:9-11)

In the Name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.