Laying mountains low

Advent 2, 2009
Luke 3:1-6
Marian Free

In the name of God who draws near with love and compassion. Amen.

It may or may not surprise you that I have spent considerable time this week reflecting on the gospel. In particular, I have been wondering what it means that the “valleys shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low.” Why is such a radical rearrangement of the natural world required? God surely can make his presence known to us without completely smoothing out the roughness of the earth.  In fact, does God really need any sort of help from us? Surely if God wants to come, God will simply come? God doesn’t need straight paths, and if God did need them to be straightened, God wouldn’t need our help to do it.

We are called to prepare the way of the Lord, and make his paths straight, but it is possible that the tearing down of mountains and raising up of valleys will happen without our help.

To understand what John is saying, we need to look at his role in the story. Luke tells us at the beginning of his gospel that John’s task is “to turn the people of Israel to the Lord their God” (16, 17). Then in the second chapter, we are told that his father, Zechariah says that he “will be called the prophet of the Most High;
for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways,
to give knowledge of salvation to his people
by the forgiveness of their sins.
By the tender mercy of our God,
the dawn from on high will break upon us,
to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,
to guide our feet into the way of peace.”

What preparation is required? The usual interpretation is that to prepare for God’s coming we have to be good, that we have to live lives without blemish. The implication being that God is coming in judgement. yet in both Luke and Isaiah, we can see that John is to prepare us, by encouraging us to turn to God, to let us know that we are forgiven and thereby that we are saved.  We will see the glory of the Lord not his wrath. In this context, God’s coming is a blessing not a terror, the smoothing of the path is to make it easier for us to see God’s goodness, not to make it easier for God to come to us!

This means then that any barriers that need leveling are of our own creation and that the preparation of which John speaks, is the removing of the obstacles which we place between ourselves and our acceptance of God’s love for us. Figuratively speaking, we create mountains and dig valleys that prevent us from knowing God’s forgiveness and blind us to the salvation offered by God. Zechariah tells us that we already have both these things, but that we need someone like John to tell us about them and to turn our lives around so that we know that we have them.

The mountains and valleys which prevent us from seeing God and accepting that we are saved and forgiven result from a failure to trust in God, a determination to rely on our own view of reality. And so we build mountains of insecurity and dig valleys of despair. We create hills of hatred and holes of self-pity.  We erect walls of greed, anger, frustration and self-absorption all of which prevent us from seeing the glory of God and discovering the salvation which God offers.

This means that in order to prepare ourselves for God’s coming we must remove all the obstacles which get in the way of our knowing and accepting God’s love for us and taking off the blinkers which blind us to the blessings which God so richly bestows on us. Figuratively speaking, we are to cast down the heights or arrogance and self justification and raise ourselves out of the pits of self indulgence. We must tear down mountains of hatred to expose the love that lies beneath. We must fill the valleys of despair with joy, replace greed with generosity, self-centredness with self-confidence, irritability with peace, frustration with patience, cruelty with kindness, falsehood with faithfulness, self-indulgence with self-control, and harshness with gentleness.

In order to create a straight path or to level the ground between ourselves and God means depending on God, and not on the things of this world, for our peace and happiness.

According to Luke, John comes to assure us that God comes with forgiveness and not judgement; that God comes to shine a light in the midst of our darkness and that God comes with an assurance of our salvation.

We are to prepare ourselves by placing our confidence in God and not in ourselves, by trusting in God and not in our own resources, by accepting that we are forgiven and that thereby we are saved.

It is the hardest thing in the world to let go of our sense of control over our own lives, yet if we can do that, we will find it is the easiest thing in the world to be saved.

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