December 10, 2017: Sermon by Deacon Benjamin Wetherill
A Highway in the Desert
Mercy and truth have met together; righteousness and peace have kissed each other. Truth shall spring up from the earth, and righteousness shall look down from heaven. May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable to you, oh God, my rock and my redeemer. Amen.
Faith: Our candle for the second Sunday of Advent is the Faith candle. “Then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed.”
Isaiah lived over 700 years before the birth of Christ. David, of whom Jesus was a descendant, lived 1,000 years before Jesus. What kind of faith did the people of Israel have, to put their hope in the prophecies proclaimed by Isaiah. They had already waited 2,000 years for the fulfillment of Abraham’s promise receiving peace during the reign of Solomon but that was only a down payment. The Lord will come and care for His people like a shepherd. The people of Israel held onto that promise continuing to watch for the arrival of the God’s promised one, the Son of Man. Most didn’t note the arrival of a baby in Bethlehem but when John the Baptist showed up they took notice. Here was a prophet in the image of Isaiah. He even declared the words of Isaiah, “Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.” No, God does not expect blind faith. He provides us with elements of grace. “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” John proclaimed the arrival of God’s Messiah, Jesus of Nazareth, who in turn proclaimed the arrival of God’s Kingdom. Here was the one who would bring judgment, here was the one who would bring peace to His people and conquer Israel’s enemies. Crucified on a cross, Jesus bore our judgment in his death. Rising from the dead he conquered Satan and death. He descended to heaven and 2,000 years later we still await the second coming, the complete fulfillment of God’s promise. Was the resurrection and the miracles enough? Do we have faith that Jesus is coming back? With the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like one day. It’s only been two days by the Lord’s count. God has kept all of His other promises but do we believe He is returning?
The second theme of our readings is faithfulness. Perhaps we have faith but are we faithful? True faith reveals itself in action. When I believe something I act as if it is true, as if it has reality. We know that gravity is real. We either have fallen or have seen the result of others falling. Because of this we do things to keep from falling and protect our friends and family. Jesus has promised to return. He sent the prophets, Isaiah and John the Baptist to declare the coming of the Lord. There were other prophets and miracles that declared God’s power and faithfulness; Jonah, Daniel, others. All of these were pledges of God’s intent. As followers of Christ, we have been given the Holy Spirit as a pledge. Filled with the Holy Spirit, we are now called to prepare the way of the Lord. “In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain.” God has done most of the work and we are not required to do anything for our salvation but God richly blesses us and allows us to participate in His great work of redemption. Peter even tells us that we can hasten that wonderful day. What are we doing to prepare the way for the Lord?
All of us have watched the road crews build roadways. My father actually worked for the Arizona Department of Transportation testing road materials for the highways. Highway building is serious work. They even test the materials to insure that they will hold up under the wear and tear of all the vehicles, the weather, and just the span of time needed. Building the roadway requires clearing the land, using explosives if necessary to clear obstacles and level the path. They have to move tons of earth to fill in low points and take away the extra earth. They may have to drill through mountains or create bridges. When all of that is done then they have to lay down the road materials in a precise process to insure that the road will last and not fall apart due to any foreseeable event. This is the image God has given us for what is needed to prepare for God’s return. In the wilderness of our hearts and the darkness of this world we are called to build a highway for our God; to make low the high points, fill the low points and smooth all the rough places.
Preparation must begin first in our own hearts. Like testing the road materials, if we have not done the necessary work in our own hearts nothing we attempt will last. Jesus has forgiven us our sins and blessed us with gifts of the spirit through the Holy Spirit but we need to learn how to use those gifts. We also have to allow Jesus access to our hearts to begin the work of redeeming our lives for Him. Do we take time to pray and identify areas in our lives that need work? We cannot level those places in ourselves but we can hold them out to Jesus so he can. Jesus also encourages us filling in the low places in our hearts. God will do all the work but we must spend time with Him for that to happen. It is in time spent with God that we receive direction for our lives and the peace needed to do God’s work in the world. We also gain the strength, perseverance, and agility to better live like Jesus.
Preparation continues with our dedication to living like Jesus. Peter reminds us that this world will dissolve away on the last day. Nothing you own will survive that day and you cannot take anything with you in death. I was firmly reminded of this when I when my family lost our home in fire. We grieved the loss of those things that had memories attached to them but ultimately everything can be replaced and new memories created. We are called to be stewards of what God has given us to prepare the way for His return. John the Baptist gives us an image of what that looks like. John devoted his life to proclaiming the coming of Christ. He lived simply and traveled light. Now, this does mean that we can’t enjoy what God has given us. God loves us and gives us good things to enjoy but we should never forget who gives it to us and be prepared to share generously knowing it prepares the way of the Lord.
The world would convince us that life is about getting everything you can and using things and people to enrich ourselves. Sometimes there will be limits as to how far we can go but life is about being true to ourselves. Jesus showed us a better way that involved denying ourselves and serving the best interests of others. We are called to love God and to love others. Life is about building relationships in which we put the needs of others before our own needs. What work have we done in our relationships to prepare the way of the Lord? Do we seek to identify the hills and mountains that exist between us and other people? What are we doing to tear down those obstacles? Do we purposely build others up or do we talk about them behind their backs, gossiping about things we don’t really know anything about. Do we love people who are difficult to love, smoothing out the rough places? Things will dissolve away someday to be replaced by a new earth and a new heaven but the love you share now will build relationships that will last forever. When Jesus talked about building houses on firm foundations, it was foundations of love he was talking about. What are we building for eternity?
Righteousness shall go before him, and peace shall be a pathway for his feet. Too often we think that righteousness means doing the right things and saying the right things. The problem is that we are not capable of doing or saying the right things. Only God is capable of doing what is right, what is good. Jesus declared that “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life. No one comes to the Father but by me.” On a night two thousand years ago Truth entered the world he had created. When he died on the cross and rose from the dead mercy and truth met together and righteousness and peace kissed. Jesus lives inside each one of us through the Holy Spirit. That same Holy Spirit gives us the strength and love we need to prepare the way for His physical return. It is only through our love for each other and for our neighbors that we can build a pathway for our Lord. God has made us righteous. It is up to us to pave the way for peace.