Open the Way Again! The Lord is Coming!
This time of year, we are bombarded with images. Most of them are happy images reflecting the season - the smiling faces of children, holiday lights, glittering stars and snow, families gathered around the table or the tree or a roaring fire. Some of these images are sad - people without shoes or food, advertisements for Blue Christmas services. Some of them are put out there to influence us - happy shoppers laden with bags of gifts, abandoned animals needing homes - while other images are those of our own making - memories of our own Christmases past, present, and future.
All these images crowd around in our heads and hearts vying for our attention. There's so much going on in these days of preparation, it's downright dizzying.
But I would like to ask you to set aside all those images for a few minutes in order to consider the images offered to us today in the wonderful scenes from the Advent readings. I'd like to ask you to clear your minds of sugarplums and to-do lists and first consider the image of a road.
That's right. A road. Not Interstate 64 or the street in front of your house, but a road in the middle of a vast nowhere. A road on which many feet have travelled, a road that might best be called "a way." Like a pilgrimage "way." A road that has seen throngs of people walking on it over centuries and centuries, time out of mind. Once, the people walked slowly and sorrowfully along that road with their heads down and their feet chained together. Throngs of people were led away from their homes into captivity and exile along this road that seemed to close up behind them.
But then, one joyful day, the road was reopened for another use. See the road being cleared of hazards, the sorrowful twists and turns straightened out, the arduous hills smoothed and gentled, the rocks and roots dug out and cast aside. Look toward the east, says Baruch, and see the formerly huddled and chained people now silently gathering in the dawning light, their heads lifted in awe and wonder as they cautiously emerge from a place of darkness, gathering to return home along that same road through the vast wilderness.
This is God's highway through that wilderness, a highway modelled on another old road: God's path from Egypt to the Promised Land, now ready to be trod again by God's people who have been crushed under the heavy burden of captivity to a world that seeks only to use them up and throw them away. See God's people begin to slowly stream down the road toward home, see their trembling hands dropping their burdens, see the relief on their faces as their captivity melts away. See how God has brought them safely home along this road.
It was the road to captivity and now it is the way of salvation for God's people. See God's hand at work in the clearing and smoothing of the way. Hear God's voice gently gathering the people. Imagine their anticipation. Imagine their relief at laying down the things that keep them in chains, assured that they will have everything they need from here on out.
No. Another image. See the world's powers gathered together in their strongholds. See the big names in their big offices, the important ones doing their important work with an eye toward how they might hold on to their power. See how they huddle together, their backs to everyone else. See how some of the religious figures huddle, too, tending their ideologies and their positions with care.
See how the people are distracted, caught up in the day-to-day pressures of life, burdened again by the world's demands and in thrall to their possessions. See how the people are really broken, walking wounded, floundering, some of them hungry and out of their minds, while others try to outrun the sense of despair that creeps along behind them like a shadow, by piling on more and more activities and possessions and dollars. See how they keep their heads down and arrange themselves with their schedules and their stuff in postures of defense.
But see, too, a lonely figure well outside the strongholds and seats of power. See him in the wilderness far away from the shops and the glitter. See him watching expectantly in the darkness and suddenly becoming infused with something that both the important ones and the people have either turned their backs upon or cannot see in their busy-ness, something that strengthens him and inspires him, something like fire that prompts him to call out: Open the way again! The Lord is coming! The Lord is near! Open the way of the Lord!
And now turn and lift your mind's eye to see the light that is breaking in the east and see the clouds and the glory streaming from them in the darkness. See now that the old highway that was built for the people's salvation long ago and time out of mind is now being prepared anew, this time for the Lord to travel upon. See that the way is now being cleared for God to come to us.
God is planning to intrude on our busy lives, to interrupt us even as we tend to our defenses, to come to us in love as love that knows no boundaries. Our salvation is drawing near.
And so let us take off our garments of sorrow and affliction and put on forever the robes of love that come from God and place on our heads the diadems of the glory of the Everlasting. Let us stand expectantly in watch and open ourselves to the fire that will fill us with passion and burn away all the junk that captivates us.
Let us prepare the way, the old and ancient way, for the Lord to come and save us.