Summary: Advent 2C: God wants to build (or improve) the road between our hearts and God.
Grace to you, and peace, from God our Father, and our Lord and Savior, Jesus, the Christ.
Have you ever noticed the differences between old roads and new roads? The condition of the pavement-- or the lack of it, how straight the road is, if it’s in a hilly area, how steep the terrain. All can be clues to the age of the road.
Roads throughout our area have changed over time. At first wagons rode on rough roads through the prairie. Gradually the roads were made better, eventually becoming two-lane paved roads, which improved travel between the towns. In some places, two lane roads are widened to four lanes, making driving speedier and safer. With better engineering over the years, roads often become smoother, more level, and straighter, and travel becomes easier en route to our final destinations.
Every year we have opportunities to see road construction up close and personal, whether it’s a route somewhere close to home or a bit farther away, like the road between Willmar and Spicer. When I’ve watched the process, roads are ripped up, widened, leveled, and smoothed out. It takes a lot of time and repeated effort, going over it again and again and again, until the road is right. Most of the time is spent preparing the foundation for the actual road. The final surface that we drive on seems to be the quickest part of the job.
I’m sure you noticed that road construction is not a quick fix. The part we see often takes about six months to complete, and that doesn’t include the behind-the-scenes planning and preparation. The investment of time and resources is pretty amazing.
In our Gospel text for today, the Gospel writer Luke reported that Isaiah had prophesied similar progress on another road. Paths would be made straight. Valleys would be filled in. Mountains and hills would be leveled out. Rough ways would be made smooth. On these improved roads, travel would become easier en route to our final destination. The road that Isaiah described is the one we travel to greet the Prince of Peace, our Lord Jesus.
There is no denying that mountains, low places, and crooked paths exist— both in the world, and in our own lives. God tells us that the route to reaching the Prince of Peace can be a difficult road.
Along the way we encounter mountains. Racism, sexism, and class distinctions stand as barriers between people and peace in many places in our world. God calls us to work at leveling the mountains, and to serve as mountain guides to help our neighbors cross safely to the other side.
In between the mountains, we find ourselves in the low places. We come upon people who are depressed, lonely, in grief, in prison, and in need. All need to be raised up— through our prayers, through our fellowship, through our neighborly companionship. People fall into pits of poverty, holes of oppression, and swamps of enslavement. God calls us to fill those low places in and raise them up.
Given all the mountains and the low places in life that we cross through, it’s easy to see why Isaiah describes the way can be "crooked." It can be tempting to try to travel around the obstacles in the road, and so our road can twist and turn, and become a winding road. Just like our road crews work at straightening the turns in the roads north of Renville, God calls us to work at straightening the winding paths to God.
To do this work is to prepare the way for the Prince of Peace, and to begin to see the coming of God’s peace— God’s peace coming to our lives and our hearts.
This path we are called to prepare is not through some pleasant and civilized place. Isaiah says that the path is straight through the wilderness. Not some tame wilderness that looks pretty and safe. This wilderness is dangerous.
The wilderness where we are called to make this path is the wilderness in our own hearts, and our own lives. The wilderness of sin. The wilderness of our own self-centeredness. The wilderness of our attraction to other things that society says are important, instead of being attracted to the One True God who is coming in the person of the Baby Jesus. This is the wilderness where God wants us to forge a straight path-- a straight and level path between our hearts and God.
It’s here in the wilderness of our hearts that we meet God, not in some mythic promised land in our past or future. As we seek to straighten this road between our hearts and God, we may have to face some unwelcome changes. The plans for God’s new road may not match the road as it exists now. Or there may be no road there at all yet. We may have been putting off this major construction project. Sometimes it might look easier to just never begin this work.