Are we prepared?

Second Sunday in Advent 12-9-2018

Prepare the Way of the Lord.

Yesterday I was out walking with our dog, Saxo. I do love hiking and walking the hills and the trails in Yorba Linda, and luckily Saxo shares my love of hiking. It was a breathtakingly beautiful bright day yesterday. Clear blue skies. Fresh air in the lungs. No winds to struggle and no rain to endure. Just pure joy of hills, valleys, ups and downs, paths and views.

Prepare the way of the Lord.

As I was walking, I looked ahead on the trail. It was certainly not straight or even or smooth. It was hilly, curved and bent. I could not always see where the trail was leading me, as I can not look around corners (even if our boys sometimes think I can). So, I was reflecting on the path not only of Carbon Canyon Park in Yorba Linda, The land of the Gracious living, but even more on the path of life of humanity in general.  

I was out early walking, and thus I did not meet many on the path. It was quit and calm, and time perfect for reflections and thoughts. As a pastor I often think and prepare sermons and words while I walk, and yesterday I contemplated on the words of today: Prepare the Way of the Lord. And I thought: are we really prepared, and how do we prepare ourselves not only for Advent and Christmas but prepare ourselves for life itself.  Because if there is anything that is characteristic about modern people like us, it is that we want to be prepared, and we crave to live safe well-prepared lives.

We are always on our way. Today we are on our way through the Season of Advent. We have lit the second candle and we have already prepared the Advent Wreath for the coming two candles. We are indeed prepared!

We are on our way. But are we indeed prepared, equipped and ready!? And can we ever be fully prepared, equipped and ready for the path of life that truly is filled with obstacles, curves, turns, hills, valleys and even mountains to climb?

As I was walking, breathing in the fresh air, enjoying the views and the sun, I thought about this past week’s encounters and meetings:

* Are we ever prepared to say goodbye to our old parents, even if we have had a lifetime to prepare for the inevitable day to come? We prepare ourselves with insurances and even life-insurances, but does these precautions and preparations really prepare us for death and separation – and can we even be prepared?

* Are we ever fully prepared when we become parents? I was certainly not 100 % prepared to become a mom, when our son was born. I had taken many classes, read a lot of books on babies and motherhood, talked to friends and family, but nothing could fully prepare me for the change and the challenge of becoming a mom… and nothing or nobody could fully have prepared me for the feelings, the emotions and the love that just comes and takes you by surprise. How can you prepare yourself for love?

* Are we ever fully prepared for Christmas? Even if we try to plan ahead, buy the gifts on Black Friday, bake all the cookies and freeze them, and clean the house in November and cover it with plastic until December 24? - We are only prepared for Christmas when we let go of all the preparations and plans and let Christmas dwell in our hearts and minds.

* Are we ever ready to face the day when your kids will be grown and leave the nest and your become an empty nester?

* Are we ever prepared, despite our health insurance, health checks and healthy living, when illness or suffering hits to deal with issues that we rather let others deals with?

* Are we prepared to live our human life that really is not for the faint hearts as it does take al lot of courage and ability to change and adapt?

And then I had made it to the end of the trail and once again the words of the old Prophet Isaiah rang in my ears:

 “Prepare the way of the lord, make his paths straight. every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hills shall be made low, and the crooked shall be made straight, the rough ways made smooth….”

Oh, how we wish for our ways and our journeys to be like that: smooth and straight. But time and time again we must accept that our ways, our journeys through life, are crooked, uneven, rough with ups and downs, deep deep valleys and high high mountains.

How we sometimes long for bulldozers and backhoes, rock crushers and road graders to even our journeys.

There are indeed so many mountains and obstacles that needs to come down: mountains of mistrust and bitterness. Mountains of racism, sexism, and any other “ism” that blocks our way to healthy and good relationships with one another and with our God.

There are indeed so many valleys to be filled: valleys of depressions, despair, loneliness, grief, pain, any of which can keep us from a good relationship with each other and with God.

There are indeed so many crooked places to be made straight: crookedness of abuse, neglect, immorality and violence.

There are indeed rough places that needs to be made smooth: rough places that have been paved by oppression and injustice through our history.

As I was standing there, at the top and at the end of the trail, resting for a bit and turning around to enjoy the views of creations beautiful rolling hills and blue skies, my eyes caught sight of a man-made thing. A dam that has been carved in-between the hills. A dam that has pushed all the uneven dirt away and made a straight even smooth path. It looked like the straight path of God.

“Prepare the way of the lord, make his paths straight. every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hills shall be made low, and the crooked shall be made straight, the rough ways made smooth….”

Whenever we begin Advent, whenever we have lit the first promising candle of Advent, whenever we begin our journey, our pilgrimage, whenever we as a church once again listen to the wonderful prophetic promise about the smooth and straight way of God…. I begin to hum an old song. Not a hymn, but a beautiful uplifting song filled with the same kind of hope and promise

Ain’t no mountain high enough

Ain’t no valley low enough

Ain’t no river will enough

To keep me from you.

This is the promise of God to us as we journey through over valleys and mountains, highs and lows, obstacles and struggles – that he will be there. He will walk with us, and he will stay close to us. Nothing can keep God from us. We can not make our paths and roads straight and smooth, but we do believe that God can.

We can go astray. We can get lost. But nothing will keep God from us. That is what we celebrate whenever we celebrate a joyous baptism as we do today. That this child of God is found and blessed and safe – because God promises that nothing will keep him away from that child. That the journey of this child and our journeys too will be blessed from the beginning to the end.

When we listen to his promise anew, the question is if we dare to believe it – amidst our suffering and struggles, facing our mountains and conquering our valleys, - do we dare believe and hope and try to find smooth, straight and even ground to live and be.

As we prepare the way for the Lord, we also prepare our own paths to the Lord. One of the biggest obstacles that we need to even, might be the mountains built on our desire to plan and prepare, and our valleys of deep deep doubt and despair.

Do we know where we are going in these days of Advent? As the streets out their fill with shoppers, bright artificial lights and thousands of tempting offers, - we need to prepare a different path as Christians. Leading to a distant desert river and a distant prophetic voice calling and urging us to repent, to serve, to believe, to have compassion, to share, to forgive, to love and live. So instead of driving to the mall, try to hike on the trail.

Prepare the way of the Lord.

Prepare our hearts at advent.

Prepare our path to the Lord.

The teachings and readings of Advent shows us a different path than the decorated, commercial Christmas path – it shows us more quiet contemplating, meditative, thoughtful and grateful place of our heart, that we truly need in our journey.

As Mother Teresa said:

 “At this Christmas when Christ comes, will He find a warm heart? Mark the season of Advent by loving and serving the others with God's own love and concern.”

That is the where we are going. Are you prepared?