B Cycle – 2nd Sunday of Advent 20
Just months ago, I was travelling south and went through the mountains of West Virginia. My wife was sleeping and as I looked at the beautiful countryside and the vast vistas this passage from Isaiah came to mind. “prepare the way for the Lord, every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hillside will be laid low, the rugged land shall be made a plain, the rough country a broad valley. Then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed.” I began thinking of the effort it took to build that stretch of highway through those mountain regions. Years of blasting, cutting, hauling away the debris and at the same time I realized God was not talking about building a road. God was speaking to his people about building a spiritual path to the very heart of God.
After Adam’s sin cost us intimacy with God in that perfect place, God set into motion a plan to restore us but just like building a highway through the mountains much had to be done in preparation for our restoration. If you take the time to read the scriptures it is easy to see God preparing us through a line of chosen people from Moses to Malachi, almost a thousand years before the birth of John, the Baptist. Preparing the way of the Lord would have been easy if God only had to level mountains and fill in valleys. But God was not talking about mountains and valleys, he was talking about the human heart with its ups and downs, its inconsistencies, and selfish desires.
Each prophet’s message was the same, God’s desire is to heal us, to forgive us, to restore us but we must not only desire what he offers but we must realize it is not given to us because we earned it; it is given because God loves us. We also must realize that we can and must prepare the way of the Lord to remove those mountains and valleys which we build to protect ourselves from falling into sin. The laws we use to define our holiness; the self-determination and will power we use to resist sinful temptations all keep us from dependence on God and reliance on self.
Dependency on those things may work for a while but eventually the tempter will find a way to block us from seeing the path God has prepared to restore intimacy with us. Even the great wall of China did not keep out the invaders completely. Neither can the mountains we build to protect ourselves from temptations. We will fail every time we rely on self rather than God. We have been given a way to make low the mountains and fill in the valleys and that way is by embracing the gift of Jesus Christ and the gift of the Spirit.
Isaiah speaks of God coming to end our captivity, to comfort us, to feed us and to hold us close as a shepherd does his flock. John the Baptist i00 years later speaks identical words as he encourages us to prepare the way of the Lord. It has been a consistent message from all the prophets to encounter the God who created us by a simple gesture of removing all obstacles we have built between us and God. If we respond we will experience what the prodigal son experienced as he was embraced by the Father. The prodigal’s sin was to reject the Father’s plan and to strike out on his own.
Our sin is no different as we depend on self. If you think about it the prodigal’s sin was obvious in the parable, while the older brethren’s sins were not as obvious. But the older brother was depending on his ability to please his father by his strict adherence to the Father’s orders. By doing so he built a barrier between himself and the father just as the prodigal did.
We are guilty of religious pride because we have become depend on our ability to avoid sin because we fear God’s rejection. If we can take away all obstacles, symbolic mountains, and valleys, which are a barrier between ourselves and God we would feel God’s forgiveness, love, and joy and we would reclaim our position as sons and daughters.
We may not recognize the mountains we have raised between ourselves and God because they have become part of our everyday existence. We have religious pride in the one true church, and we hold fast to dogma and traditions which surround us like a protective shield bringing comfort to us. We feel immune to sin without realizing we are avoiding the one thing God desires from us – our hearts. We are in a place where all seems well, but we are missing out on the fullness of life God desires us to experience. God desires us to experience That place where we know and feel God’s presence always. God desires us to seek him as much as he is seeking us.
The crooked ways John the Baptist and all the prophets speak about are our own misinterpretation of what we must do to please God. Self-sufficiency drives us live our lives in a way that God is not needed. Holiness is a gift from God, given to us by the death of Jesus Christ and the work of the Spirit teaching us the truth about sin and forgiveness. Without those two things in our lives we become guilty of self-condemnation because we cannot overcome those sins which plague us. We might be able to keep sin at bay. But self-reliance is a huge mountain because it prevents us from allowing the Spirit to change our hearts by relying on God’s way to holiness.
You do not need me to tell you what your mountains or valleys are that need to be leveled. If you do not recognize the things that need to change in your life, you will not recognize how your path to God has been blocked by the one who desires you not to see the mountains in your life. Only one thing can move you to see them and that for you to express a desire to feel the comfort of God enfold you. If you can desire that comfort, then you will be moved to pray for your eyes to see, your ears to hear and your heart to respond to the prophets call to prepare the way of the Lord.