Sermon for the Second Sunday of Advent
December 7, 2014
When I was first ordained, I served as the assistant priest at St. Alban’s Episcopal Church in Waco. Maggie and I were newly married, and we settled into our first place together; a townhouse in one of the small municipalities on the edge of Waco. Our townhouse was precisely 4.8 miles from the church. It was ten minutes door to door. Maybe eleven minutes if I got caught at that one stop light. Anyway, I told a Wacoan where I had moved and where I was working, and he looked at me and said, “*gasp* are you ready for that commute?” Yes, Waco is so small that even a ten minute drive is a lengthy commute.
And then Maggie and I moved to the north side of Spring, one of the fastest growing areas in our city. One of the first things we had to get used to was road construction. Spring Stuebner, Gosling, Holzwarth, and now the Grand Parkway are all under expansion right in our neighborhood. Maggie and I are used to seeing that flashing road sign, “highway under construction.” Now, a couple of funny things happen when roads are under construction. First, church attendance goes down. When I-45 is closed for construction, there are noticeably fewer people here. You know what I mean. Second, I’ve noticed that before traffic gets better with the new and improved road, traffic gets worse. And I’ve noticed this recently, that when I drive on a newly built piece of a road, it’s really hard for me to imagine what it was like before. I can’t picture the old Spring Stuebner, that small pothole of an excuse for a two lane road through the forest. Now it’s a divided four lane thoroughfare with clear land on both sides. All because there was highway under construction.
The prophet Isaiah describes another highway under construction. See, in the year 586 B.C., the people of Jerusalem were dragged off to captivity and exile in the foreign city of Babylon. They were dragged through the desert, and they saw it as God’s punishment for their sinfulness. And once in Babylon they longed to return to Jerusalem. They were distraught to be living in a foreign land, cut off from their homes, their families. They were angry at their own sin, they were angry at themselves, they were angry at the Babylonians. It was not a happy time.
And then God says, “Comfort, comfort my people. There’s a highway under construction.” A highway under construction that heads back home. A highway that starts at anger and bitterness, and ends up in comfort and peace. A spiritual highway that began in Babylon and leads straight back to Jerusalem. God says, “Comfort, comfort my people.” In the 530s and 520s B.C. the people of Jerusalem were allowed to go back home. To return to their homes and their families. The emotional mountains and spiritual valleys in the way were leveled. The rough places made a plain. And they went home. Because there was a highway under construction.
“Comfort, comfort my people,” says the Lord God. “Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, cry to her that she has served her term and that her penalty is paid.” God didn’t lead the people home because they earned it. Or because they had left their sins behind. Or because they had said some magic prayers. The people of Jerusalem in exile didn’t deserve comfort. God just gave them comfort. God knew perfectly well that they would sin again, and that they would wither and die like flowers of the field. Nevertheless, God says, “comfort, comfort my people. Your term has been served. The time of your anger is over. You can go home. The highway is under construction.”
And God says to you, “comfort, comfort my people.” The highway into your heart is under construction. God is leveling out the rough places in your life, God is making the paths straight, God is building a road straight into your heart. Don’t believe it? Well, you’re here. The fact that you are even here shows that you are allowing the Holy Spirit to work on your life. The fact that you are here worshiping this God that we have never seen shows that there is a highway under construction. A highway that leads you away from your pain and into God’s comfort.
And there’s not much you can do to build this road. You can’t run the bulldozer, you can’t drive the pavement machine. You just have to sit in the traffic and allow God to work on you. The actual Hebrew words for “comfort, comfort” are commands. God isn’t asking you to be comforted. God is commanding it. No questions asked, you will be comforted. I know that many of us think that God will only comfort us if or when. “God will only comfort me when I’ve lost twenty pounds.” “God will only comfort me when my parents finally approve of me.” “God will only comfort me if I can get pregnant.” “God will only comfort me if I can get out of debt.” “God will only comfort me when I get a job.” None of those are true. God led the people of Israel back to Jerusalem because he loved them. God will comfort you simply because God loves you. So quit trying to earn God’s comfort. Quit trying to build the road that only God can build.
And when God builds roads into our hearts, it’s a messy process. We have to fight the headache of sitting in traffic, we have to swerve our way through orange cones, and dodge bulldozers. We have to let God work on us, we have to open our hearts so that the Holy Spirit can level out the rough places. God will come in with a jackhammer and pound away your pride. God will show up with a bulldozer and run over those feelings of unworthiness that you carry around with you. God will fill in the valleys of anger, and build a road through our feelings of inadequacy.
As you know, during Advent, we are spending some time during the sermon to sit in silence, and to listen for God’s Spirit. This week, we are going to sit in silence for two minutes. During these two minutes, I encourage you to reflect on your life with Jesus, and to think about the mountains he is leveling out in your life, the rough places he is making into plains. During these two minutes, I encourage you to think about how God is building a road into your heart.
[Two minutes of silence.]
There is a highway under construction. When you are driving around Spring, stuck in construction traffic, don’t get aggravated. Instead, remember that this is how God works. It’s a messy process building a road. Don’t expect everything to run smoothly. Roads will be closed. Traffic will go to one-lane. You will wonder if you will ever make it to where you’re going.
The same is true in your spiritual journey with the Lord Jesus. You will wonder why it seems that God takes forever to comfort you. Sometimes you will just wish that you could keep the old road, rather than let God jackhammer the pain from your heart; the pain of your divorce, the pain of your cancer, the pain of your bankruptcy. In the midst of your spiritual growth, you will probably wish that you could just go back to your old self, because that’s who you know best. You would rather deal with the potholes than swerve in and out of orange construction cones. You would rather fill your hands with all of that old emotional baggage than reach out for God. But I tell you the truth, the new road will be completely worth it. Some day the mess that is Gosling Road, will become a smooth highway. Some day the heartache that is in your life, will be the foundation for a new road. So let God put on his hardhat, crank up the bulldozer, and let God get to work on your soul. Comfort, comfort my people.