Journey Home for Christmas – Highways of the Heart.
John 1:6-8. Sermon by Rev. Dr. Rolf Svanoe
Our Advent theme this year is Journey Home for Christmas. Each week I’m taking you on a journey to some of the amazing places I’ve traveled to. But this week I want to focus less on the destination and more on the highway that gets us there. I’ve been on some pretty amazing highways in my life. Some of you learned to drive on the roads of Fillmore County. I learned to drive on the streets and freeways of Los Angeles before we had GPS telling us where to turn. Sometimes those LA freeways look like a bowl of spaghetti with 3 or 4 or 5 levels of highways going off in every direction. I’ve driven the Million Dollar Highway from Ouray to Silverton Colorado, called that because it cost a million dollars each mile to build it. But nothing beats the thrill of driving the Autobahn in Germany. Imagine yourself behind the wheel of a Porsche, a Mercedes Benz, or a BMW. You hit the gas and in a few seconds, you’re driving 120 miles an hour. And its legal! The Autobahn was designed for high speeds. Hitler designed the Autobahn system as a way of moving military equipment quickly. There are no tight curves, no steep inclines or declines. Everything was straightened out so the traffic wouldn’t have to slow down.
In contrast to that, one of the most memorable highways I’ve traveled is the Trolls Highway in Norway, just south of Trondheim. The “Trollstigen” is called the most crooked stretch of highway in the world. I traveled it on a tour bus back in 1986. The scenery was breathtaking, that is if you could keep your eyes open. Parts of the highway were one lane roads. If you weren’t worried about running into animals, you worried about the oncoming traffic, the sharp curves and the steep drop offs. There are eleven hairpin curves many of them so tight the bus driver had to go back and forth several times. Sometimes we were so close to the edge we hoped we wouldn’t fall down the side of the mountain. This was definitely not a road you could speed on. The view from the top is incredible and worth all the anxiety getting there. But there’s a reason they call it the Trolls Highway. The warning sign gives it away. Trolls are mischievous little pranksters. Their bodies are twisted and ugly. Their hearts are crooked and evil.
There are highways in our lesson today. Our gospel reading tells us that leaders from Jerusalem came to John the Baptist wanting to know who he was. “‘Who are you? Let us have an answer for those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?’ 23He said, ‘I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, “Make straight the way of the Lord”, as the prophet Isaiah said.” John the Baptist quoted an interesting passage from Isaiah. ‘In the 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 be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain.’ We’re talking about some major highway construction here, the equivalent of an ancient German Autobahn. You have to understand a little of what was happening when Isaiah spoke these words. The Jews were living in captivity in Babylon. Many of them had lost their faith in God. They felt God had let them down. Some of them remembered marching to Babylon as slaves. It was a journey that took four months and 900 miles on foot. Imagine the challenges along the way, the hills and valleys they had to climb, the rivers they had to wade across. Many Jews did not want to make that trip again, even if it meant that they could go back home. And so the prophet Isaiah spoke words to encourage them. God is going to make a way for you in the desert. The valleys shall be filled and the mountains made low, the crooked made straight. God is going to make you an Autobahn to speed you on your way back home.
Some 500 years later John the Baptist identified with these words of Isaiah. He saw his role as preparing the way for the Messiah. His message was to get ready. Prepare the way of the Lord. John’s message is still relevant for us today. He recognized that the highways that needed to be straightened out are not remote roads in the desert, but the highways of our heart. We need some major highway construction. Even today John calls us to change our ways and practice justice in our lives. He calls us to high standards of integrity. He calls us to compassionate sharing with the poor. If we are going to welcome the Messiah into our hearts we need some road construction in our hearts. Which highway does your heart look like- the twisted switchbacks of the Trolls Highway or the straight and smooth Autobahn? Prepare the way of the Lord. Make straight his paths.
We need to be honest with ourselves this Third Sunday in Advent! Too often we don’t prepare the way of the Lord. We prepare everything else. We do our holiday baking, decorate the house inside and out, buy presents for all the people on our lists, go to parties and family gatherings. Often there is no time or energy left to prepare for the Lord. We are the people whose ways become the crooked ways that God has to straighten out and smooth over. We need a change, to be transformed. This Advent is the season to be reminded that out of all our busyness and all our preparations, the preparation that really matters is the preparation of the heart.
Once there was a very important, powerful business man who was the head of a major corporation. He was accustomed having people jump at his command. One day he was late for an appointment and he decided to take a shortcut. He became hopelessly lost and the more he drove around, the more lost he became. He decided that he would ask the first person that he saw for some directions. He came upon a boy. He addressed the boy gruffly, “Boy, which way is it to Dover?” The boy looked up at him and smiled and said, “I don’t know.” “Well how far is it to Paynesville?” “I don’t know that either,” said the boy. The man’s questions became angrier and shorter and curter and the boy grew more uncomfortable and then the man finally lost his temper and said, “You don’t know much, do you, boy?” The boy looked up and said, “I know this, mister, I ain’t lost!” You see, down the road there was a light in the house, and the boy knew where home was.
We too, know where home is. Home is the heart of God full of love and grace. Home is the full embrace of Jesus. God is calling us to Journey Home for Christmas, to get ready, to let him do some major highway construction in our hearts. It’s the most amazing news in the whole universe. This God who made his home 2,000 years ago to humble parents in a stable, wants to make a home in your heart today.
“Prepare the way of the Lord. Make his paths straight.” It’s the trip of a lifetime.