Sermon for the Second Sunday of Advent

Text: Luke 3:4-5
As it is written in the book of the prophet Isaiah: "Someone is shouting in the desert: “Get the road ready for the Lord; make a straight path for him to travel! Every valley must be filled up, every hill and mountain levelled off. The winding roads must be made straight, and the rough paths made smooth.”

Get ready for the Lord!

Freeways are great.  They provide smooth travelling – no dirt roads, no slow uphill climbs, no getting stuck behind semi-trailers and unable to pass, no windy and dangerous roads, no slowing down for towns, no roundabouts, no frustration, just change lanes and away we go – just straight sailing. 

Some of you may recall what the road between Sunshine Coast and Brisbane was like in days before the freeway. One narrow lane going each way. It was slow travelling – one long line of traffic, no point being impatient and frustrated; everyone just crawled along unable to pass because of on-coming traffic.    

Then the freeway was built.  Now as we sail down the freeway enjoying a hassle free trip the thoughts of those frustrating trips are a distant memory, that is, until even the multi-lane freeway is choked with cars. 

But before we can travel along a freeway a lot of work has to be done.  For months, even years, men and machinery push and shove earth to build up the hollows, cut through hills and mountains, dig tunnels making the road flat, straight and smooth. 

Our text talks about making a freeway.  John the Baptist quotes Isaiah.  The Old Testament prophet is talking about people who are lost in a strange land.  The people of God had been captured by the Babylonians, their cities and their beloved temple had been destroyed.  They were taken far away as captives.  Babylonia was one of the most advanced civilisations of the time, but as far as the Israelites were concerned they might as well have been out in the desert somewhere like their great grandparents who wandered around for 40 years. 

They were a long way from home, a long way from their much-loved city Jerusalem and the temple of God; it seemed even a long way from God himself.  How shall we sing God’s song in a strange land?” they sang.  Even though many did very well for themselves in Babylon it just didn’t seem right.  This was not their home.  This was a strange land.

Why did the people of God end up in such a miserable situation?  They were fully aware that it wasn’t just bad luck or fate or chance that had landed them in this strange place.  They had been warned by God’s messengers, the prophets.  They had ignored the word of the Lord and turned away from God’s ways.  Now they were paying the price.  And they knew it. 

Now the prophet is saying to those in exile that they are going home, but before they can go across the wilderness a freeway must be made, “every valley shall be filled in, every mountain and hill made low.  The crooked roads shall become straight, and rough ways made smooth.”  All obstacles, which block the way back home and make the return difficult, must be removed.  God will reveal his glory and lead his people home.  

I don’t believe that Isaiah is talking about a modern freeway as we know it; he is talking about preparing for the coming of God to lead them home.  Their sin had caused their exile in the strange land of Babylon and now the way must be made straight.

Today we heard how John the Baptist preached out in the wilderness.  He is calling the people of God to prepare the way for the Lord, to get the road ready for the coming of the Lord, make it straight and level and smooth. 

John isn’t talking about making a freeway from one town to another; he is talking about a freeway where all obstacles have been removed for the coming of the Saviour into our lives.  He is urging us to make smooth the rough places in our lives, fill in the hollows, make low the mountains and hills that would prevent us from welcoming Jesus into our hearts and lives. 

John urges everyone to bring in the heavy earth moving equipment to move away all obstacles and level the path.  The name of this heavy equipment is repentance – it clears away all the rubbish and anything else that blocks the coming of the Lord.

Repent, in other words, turn away from every obstacle, from that favourite sin that we know is wrong but we enjoy it anyway.
Turn away from greed, selfishness, unkindness and thoughtlessness.
Turn away from saying bad things about other people behind their backs.
Turn away from anger and a judgmental attitude that causes harm to others.
Turn away from laziness and a poor commitment to God and his church. 
Turn away from everything that is contrary to the way God wants us to live as his people. 

Everything that stands between God and us needs to be cleared away.  That’s not an easy thing to do.  It’s well near impossible, in fact it is impossible, for us to turn around our lives just by sheer will power.  We enjoy certain sins.  We are determined to not do something again and yet next thing you know, we are doing it again.  We can’t help doing, saying or thinking in ways that are harmful and hurtful. All these things are part of our sinful human nature.  It doesn’t matter how hard we try to change something in our lives, it will always seems to come back.  No sooner than we think that a certain obstacle is cleared away than it springs up again.

And here is the tough part. 
The more we come to know God;
the closer our relationship with our Lord;
the more we study his word in the Bible;
the more we see the love that God has for us;
the more we become aware of the sinful obstacles that prevent us from truly being God's people in this world;
and the more we realise that we need God's help in levelling the hills and filling the gullies through repentance.

You might put it this way, in the brilliant light of Jesus and his love for us, in the flood light of the perfect God who made us to be perfect, we see just what a mess there is in our life that needs clearing up. 

An elderly parishioner was suffering from poor eyesight.  She couldn’t see anything clearly anymore so she had surgery to remove cataracts.  I picked her up from the hospital and took her home.  As she walked into her kitchen a look of horror came over her face.  The kitchen, that she thought had been left clean and tidy, had flour on the floor, spider webs in the corners, and a dried up puddle of milk on the table.  When she couldn’t see she thought everything was fine.  Now that she could see again, she realised that what she had thought was clean actually was a mess.

Faith in Jesus gives us renewed eyesight.  We see the obstacles and the crooked path that we have been travelling along. We see what needs to be cleared away.  Even as people who belong to God we have not, by any stretch of the imagination, lived as people who belong to God.

We all know that this is so hard to do.  In the power of the Holy Spirit, we need to daily acknowledge our sin and turn away from it.  Daily we need to make straight paths and make our relationship with God something that will affect everything we say and do.  Daily we need to repent, to turn away from sin, to turn our lives around.

When asking a certain man why he didn’t go to church anymore, he answered, “I don’t go because it’s too depressing.  All the church talks about is sin.  I don’t need that kind of talk.”  And yes, I agree it would be horribly depressing to be reminded of your sin each week, if that is all you got to hear.

John the Baptist talked about sin a lot and called people to repent and prepare the way for the Lord but he said more.  He shouted out loud the message of God’s grace and mercy.  He told everyone that God was sending someone who will amaze them because he is the one God said would come and bring forgiveness.

To go back to the imagery of making roads.  God knows that we can't make the paths straight ourselves.  He knows that we have good intentions but good intentions aren't enough so he has provided the heavy equipment needed to remove all the obstacles in our lives that come between us and God forever.  He has provided a road maker who makes the path smooth for us and fills in the hollows and flattens the hills of sin and temptation.  We try but our human nature gets the better of us and he has sent us his Son, the only one, who can make things right again.  He brings in the heavy machinery – forgiveness and reconciliation.

Jesus has come for you and me.
Jesus came the first Christmas to bring peace to our troubled hearts and troubled world.
He came to deal with our sin. 
He came to bring forgiveness and renewal into our lives.  He says to each one of us, “I am the way, the truth and life.  If you want peace, and joy, and a life and love then I am the one who can give it to you.  I am the One who is the way to eternal life.  There is no other way”.  
He came to bring about change in us – to change us from self-serving and thoughtless people to people who let the love of God and their faith in Jesus overwhelm their sinful habits and do things that make a difference in the lives of the people around them.
He came to give his power to enable us to be like him – to let the love and peace and patience and kindness and gentleness and Jesus flow through us into the lives of others.


© Pastor Vince Gerhardy
9th December 2012

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