Monday, December 6, 2021

A Highway


Barach 5:1-9

Advent 2 / Year C

For God has ordered that every high mountain

and the everlasting hills be made low
and the valleys filled up, to make level ground,
so that Israel may walk safely in the glory of God.

I drive on I64 two or three times a month I suppose.  It is a white-knuckle experience, what with all the construction around the Highrise Bridge.  Nevertheless, I am always curious to see how much progress (or how little progress) has been made since the last time I drove by.  As I say a prayer I won’t get sideswiped in the narrow lanes, I dream of the day all the work will be done and a more modern highway will usher in congestion-free travel.  Ahh, someday.

My various walking and biking pilgrimages have given me an appreciation for our road and highway systems.  We drivers have it pretty well off over most other methods of getting around.  When you are walking you are well aware of the obstacles you face.  You know the amount of energy it will take to climb the step hill you are approaching.  You know how treacherous it is to be descending a rocky path on a rainy day when a single slip can spell disaster.  And you know what it is like to be out in the elements – the heat of the sun and the damp chill of blustery winds and driving sleet.  In a car none of these things greatly affect you.  On foot they are constant challenges.

The present-day road from Jericho to Jerusalem is like any modern highway and the elevation change is dramatic.  It is up hill all the way and when we were in the Holy Land a few years ago our bus struggled at times with the grade.  I remember thanking God I was riding, not walking it.  It brought to mind the 121st Psalm, which pilgrims would recite as they made their way to Jerusalem to attend one of its many yearly festivals.  After several days of exhausting walking, the Holy City finally came into sight and there is a good reason it is referred to as ‘Mt. Zion’.  I can imagine pilgrims getting their first glimpse of the road ahead and saying,

I lift up mine eyes to the hills,

  from whence is my help to come?

In other words, “How in the world am I going to be able to climb all the way up there!”

All of this is to say the imagery of building a highway where the hills are laid low and the deep valleys filled in and the rough places made smooth and the crooked places made straight would be especially appealing to folks whose only method of transportation was on foot. 

Baruch came from a noble family and was a loyal friend of the prophet Jeremiah.  In fact, he recorded all of Jeremiah’s prophecies about the impending fall of Jerusalem and subsequent exile.  While in exile in Babylon he added his own writings, which is now known as the Book of Baruch (one of the books of the Apocrypha). 

What we read this morning is such a wonderful, hopeful vision of immanent redemption and restoration. 

Take off the garment

of your sorrow and affliction, O Jerusalem,
and put on forever

  the beauty of the glory from God.

Arise, O Jerusalem, stand upon the height;

look toward the east,

  and see your children gathered from west and east

at the word of the Holy One,
rejoicing that God has remembered them.

For they went out from you on foot,

led away by their enemies;

  but God will bring them back to you,
carried in glory, as on a royal throne.

For God has ordered that every high mountain

and the everlasting hills be made low
and the valleys filled up, to make level ground,
so that Israel may walk safely in the glory of God.

As they did then, we also do today – celebrate God’s continual work to restore all people, all things, and all of creation to the beauty we once had before sin and brokenness entered the world. 

Baruch’s vision came to pass not too long after he proclaimed it.  Those exiled in Babylon and those dispersed through the Mediterranean region returned to Jerusalem.  The imagery about the highway was more hyperbole than reality, still, God made a way for exiles to return home.  Thanks be to God.  It is like what G.K. Chesterton once said, “Fairy tales are more than true - not because they tell us dragons exist, but because they tell us dragons can be beaten.”  Through Baruch, God promises a way forward will emerge.

But the story does not end here.  When the exiles get back to Jerusalem they find the Temple is destroyed, the city walls are breached, and the gates no longer exist.  The home to which they have returned is in ruins.  Rather than curse their enemies or the God who brought them back, they roll up their sleeves and get to work; first on the walls, then the gates, and finally the Temple.

We live now in a time very similar to what they experienced.  The pandemic has been an exile experience where we have been separated from family and friends, where much of what was familiar is gone.  We are now in the time of return.  Some of us are back, some are on the way, and a few are not yet comfortable enough to begin the journey. 

So much has changed in our society: worker shortages and supply chain disruptions are two of the more obvious new challenges.  Here at St. Paul’s – like every other church – we are labor to get back up to speed.  We have learned once the routine of ministry stops it is not easy to get it going again. 

But never forget God is in the business of restoration and hope.  There are signs of this in our midst.  Today we welcome back our choir and look forward to seeing many of our children after the service who will be outside engaging in a St. Nicholas’ Day Festival.  While we have much work to do, we also have much to celebrate.  I can see and sense God is tending our parish in a way that will help us blossom and thrive. 

Let’s do this.  Let’s make a mental note of where we are today on this 2nd Sunday of Advent, 2021.  What have we lost?  What do we have?  Who is here?  Let’s jot it down and seal it away until the day the roadwork around the Highrise Bridge is finally finished.  And then let’s compare where we are at that moment with where we are today and I suspect we will realize we have even much more to celebrate than we do today.