The Road Home

Luke 3:1-6

In the fifteenth year of the reign of Emperor Tiberius, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was ruler of Galilee, and his brother Philip ruler of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias ruler of Abilene, during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness. He went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, as it is written in the book of the words of the prophet Isaiah,

“The voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord,
    make his paths straight.
Every valley shall be filled,
    and every mountain and hill shall be made low,
and the crooked shall be made straight,
    and the rough ways made smooth;
and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.’”

 

There is something about going to the mountains that I find very peaceful. It’s where I can turn off my cell phone, unplug from screens, and notice the air around me. When I think about mountains, my first thoughts are of hiking and cabins, waterfalls and great views of the valleys below. Mountains are places where I don’t worry as much, and can feel much more present with creation, with people, and with God.

But that wasn’t the way it was two thousand years ago. Mountains and valleys were the dangerous areas. People didn’t have sturdy hiking boots and camelback backpacks and energy bars. They traveled by barefoot, or if they were wealthy, with sandals. And no one cleared out nice hiking trails ahead of them. There were rocks and thorns, steep ledges and sheer cliff faces too tall to climb.

And then there were the real dangers: in mountains and valleys you could hide and pounce and attack. And so predators filled the hills – snakes and mountain lions, wolves and bears. But the most dangerous of all: humans – thieves and robbers, murderers and pirates attacking those who wandered too far into the hills.

The mountains were not places you went to rest and get away from all your worries. They were dangerous, they were difficult, they were what kept you from getting from one place to the next.  They were the barriers to getting home.

In our passage for today, John the Baptist is shouting out the words of the prophet Isaiah:

‘Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight.
Every valley shall be filled,
and every mountain and hill shall be made low,
and the crooked shall be made straight,
and the rough ways made smooth;

These words were originally spoken at maybe the lowest point in Israel’s history. When Isaiah writes them, Babylon has taken over and destroyed all of Judah and Israel. Jerusalem is in ruins. The Temple is nothing but rubble. And the people have been taken away in chains back to Babylon. They have lost family and friends. They have lost their place of worship and sign that God is with them. They have lost their houses and gardens, streets and shops, the places they raised their children and told stories and shared in laughter. They have lost everything that they could possibly call “home.” And now they are around 1,000 miles from home, in Babylon. And between them and home is a vast wilderness of mountains, valleys, peaks and crevices, that seem far too big and dangerous to ever make their way back home again.

That is when God speaks up. God says “I will make a way for you to be home again.” The valleys will be filled, the mountains will be made low. The crooked paths will be straight, those rough stones will be made smooth. And when you get weary, God will give you strength.

They will soar on wings like eagles;
they will run and not grow weary,
they will walk and not be faint. –Isaiah 40:31

Isaiah ‘s message is that God will bring us home again.

500 years later, John the Baptist is also inviting us home. But this time home is not a place. It is not returning to Jerusalem or Judah. The people are already there. John the Baptist is actually calling them out of their houses and cities to come and join him in the wilderness, and there find their true home.

Because home is more than a building, more than city walls, more than a place. Home is knowing you belong. Home is community. Home is family and friends. Home is knowing some sense of peace in your life, and knowing you don’t face the world alone. Home is where you know you have value and worth, dignity, and love. Home is knowing there is a place for you in this world.

That longing for home is not just something felt by Israelites 2500 years ago. It is a deep longing in our world, in our nation, in our community. Home is something longed for by people both young and old, by those who have lived here for generations and those who have just arrived. For those grieving and those welcoming life into this world, for those hopeful, and those very afraid, for the wealthy and poor, powerful, and weak, we all desire to be at home, to be somewhere in which we belong and are loved and walk this life with someone by our side.

The one who offers us that true home, that true peace and welcome greater than any we have ever known is coming. He is on his way.

But as we wait for him, we also have a calling to make a way in the wilderness.

Let’s ask ourselves today, “What are those barriers for people finding a true home?” Maybe they are still mountains and desert, as people travel from their former homeland, hoping to find a new one to welcome them. Maybe they are economic mountains, as people struggle for rent or a mortgage or jobs. Maybe they are issues of language or religion or class, being in a new community where you don’t feel like you can fit in easily, where you are an outsider. Maybe they are deeper inside us – issues of addiction or shame.

Whatever they are, let us be people who help to offer a home. Let’s join with God in flattening those mountains and lifting up those valleys and smoothing those paths, so that others can know peace, know joy, know love. So that others can know that they aren’t alone, and yes they belong with us whatever religion or skin color or background they come from. Let us be neighbors who believe that God wants all people to one day be at home too.