A Sermon preached
Readings: Isaiah 40:1-11 and Mark 1:1-8
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 made low.”
Jerusalem the great city of Israel has been captured,
the temple destroyed, the city devastated,
turned into the ground zero of its age – a smouldering wreck -
and the leaders of the nation sent into Babylonian exile.
Meanwhile back in Jerusalem
a poverty stricken and demoralised rump eke out an existence
and lick the wounds of guilt and wounded pride.
And from exile by the waters of
the prophet Isaiah sends word back to Jerusalem:
Your city may be in ruins,
but God has not deserted you in your hour of need –
he will return to be with you in the ruins of your shattered life,
just as he was once with you in the pomp of Solomon’s glory.
This is the word of God to every
civilization, every state,
every family, every individual here today.
Even though your whole world may seem to have fallen apart,
the words of Isaiah remain true -
God has not forgotten you –
he will come and search you out
even in the midst of your deepest disaster and woe.
So, says Isaiah to the people of
you thought God had abandoned you to the wolves and the winds
and the shifting desert sands -
But he is coming back.
So be ready – make him welcome
road in the desert –
fill in the valleys and lower the mountains –
make a straight pathway.
When a Monarch or President arrives at Heath Row,
then people - literally - roll out the red carpet -
they make a special pathway
that shows honour and respect for the one who comes.
And this is what Isaiah says to
your King is returning - roll out the red carpet,
prepare a highway in the desert - to welcome God into your life.
That is what we are all called to do this and every Advent.
If you go to Montmartre in Paris,
you will find an amazing array of tawdry and exploitative sex shops
and the like, loads of flashing lights and exploitation.
But just a street away, you come to the bottom of the hill
leading up to the Cathedral of Sacre Coeur.
And between the tawdriness of the streets below,
and the stunning white cathedral, full of peace and candles and prayer,
there is a huge long flight of white steps.
The prophet says:
Make straight a path between God and the sinful city -
for you live in a sinful world,
a world which threatens to ruin and destroy those who live in it.
God is coming to dwell with you in your world -
prepare for his coming, make the path straight, make him welcome.
If you have been watching the Greatest Britons
series on the TV,
you will have seen that Winston Churchill was voted no 1 –
but that the surprising runner up was Isambard Kingdom Brunel –
the Victorian engineer who among other things
drove the iron road straight and level
through the hills and ravines of the land
with cuttings and embankments, bridges and viaducts.
The straight and true iron road
of what became known as God’s Wonderful Railway
So Isaiah says – drive God’s
wonderful road through the desert –
it is to be straight and true – fill in the valleys and flatten the mountains.
The mountains of racism, of
sexism and of homophobia,
of sexual abuse and domestic violence,
of international terrorism and state repression,
of economic exploitation and materialism,
And then there are the valleys –
for where a society has mountains of sin,
there too inevitably are the chasm depths of sorrow and suffering –
the vale of tears, the valley of victimisation,
the grinding depths of poverty,
he Valley of the Shadow of Death.
So, when as God’s people we are
to do nothing less than to prepare the way of the Lord -
This is not just a religious command
to sing and pray – (though that is part of it)
– it is a very practical, social, political command
to love and change the world -
to make our world, our city,
our neighbourhood, our family, our Church
fit and ready for God.
That is what it means to prepare the way for God.
And if we are to change the
maybe we had best start with ourselves.
For there is a job of spiritual
engineering to be done within our own souls –
the desert, the mountain and the valley, can be there right within me.
Make straight the way of the
bring down the mountains of our pride,
the hills of our ambition,
build up the valleys of our discouragement
and half hearted commitment –
if we are to make our lives ready for the Lord.
One thing we might do this week
is to identify one mountain in society and one mountain in our heart –
and set about levelling it during the week ahead
So John the Baptist comes to the
offering God’s baptism and quoting our text from Isaiah -
I have come as a road builder, he says – come and be baptised.
For then you will work not in your own power but the power of God –
and then can you become one of God’s road builders with me,
looking for the one who will come…
we baptise Ruby and recruit our latest road builder –
and ask God’s blessing on her –
that in his power her road may be straight and true
Sam and Penny I don’t know how you came to choose Ruby’s
but it’s a lovely name for a jewel of a little girl –
all the more so because she shares it
with one of the most remarkable little girls of the 20th Century.
In New Orleans in 1960 a federal judge ruled
that the city schools must be integrated.
The white population threatened violence against any black children
attending what had been all white schools.
At the William T Franz School,
all the black children stayed away in fear – all that except one.
A 6-year-old girl, Ruby Bridges,
was the only black child to attend school.
Every day for weeks as she walked to school,
a mob would line the road to scream at her and threaten her.
They shook their fists, shouted obscenities,
and threatened to kill her.
Yet each day Ruby, flanked by burly federal marshals,
walked straight down the road to school.
One day her teacher saw her lips moving
as she walked through the crowd.
The teacher asked Ruby if she was talking to the people.
'I wasn't talking to them,' she replied.
'I was just saying a prayer for them'.
The teacher asked her, 'Why do you do that?'
'Because they need praying for,' came her reply."
“Go ye therefore into
the desert places
of our broken and evil society and make straight the way of the Lord –
walk straight between the mountains of evil and hate,
walk with love and prayer –
do this and you will surely prepare the world for the Lord.
Today we bring our Ruby and ask God’s blessing on her –
hope and pray that much of her journey through life
will be filled with peace and joy –
that her lot may be cast in joyful places -
but we also know, that like all God’s children
she will at times be called to confront a hard and sometimes brutal world,
to brave the evils of life and to make a pathway in the desert places.
God bless her,
and help us keep our promises to love and guard and protect her
and all the children in our midst
that they may not fear or flinch from the desert road
And so, as we all remember our
let us commit ourselves to prepare a way for God’s coming.
And if that seems a daunting
remember it is God’s road we build,
and he is with us always on that road.
So I leave you with the words of
Martin Luther King –
words for Ruby and for us all:
"we must walk on in
the days ahead
with an audacious faith in the future.
When our days become dreary
with low-hovering clouds of despair,
and when our nights become
darker than a thousand midnights,
let us remember that there is a creative force
in this universe,
working to pull down the gigantic mountains of evil,
a power that is able to make a way out of no way
and transform dark yesterdays into bright tomorrows."
This is the power God offers to all his baptised –
in that power may Ruby and each of us
“make straight the way of the Lord”