A Path For His Steps

Advent 2B Lectionary:  Psalm 85: 1-2, 8-13

8Let me hear what God the Lord will speak, for he will speak peace to his people, to his faithful, to those who turn to him in their hearts.9Surely his salvation is at hand for those who fear him, that his glory may dwell in our land. 10Steadfast love and faithfulness will meet; righteousness and peace will kiss each other. 11Faithfulness will spring up from the ground, and righteousness will look down from the sky. 12The Lord will give what is good, and our land will yield its increase.13Righteousness will go before him, and will make a path for his steps.

We like the image of God making a path for us to walk, giving us some sense of the direction in which we are called to go.  It just makes it easier, as if we’ve sort of been handed a holy GPS that we can turn on when we get lost. But this psalm presents it a little bit differently.  Righteousness will go before him, and will make a path for his steps.  What does that mean?  Are WE being asked to prepare that path?

This Psalm was probably originally sung in response to the return from the Babylonian exile.  Think about it.  Their land was being returned to them, their lives were beginning to get a little better, sort of fall into place, and there was a sense of a sort of national forgiveness.  There was hope that had not been present for a long time.  But hope also calls one to take a good hard look at oneself.  And the people knew what had happened and what wrongs they had done to each other.  They recognized the pall of systemic sin that was present, a certain acceptance of poverty and injustices and divisive fractions in their midst.  This Psalm is a lament that is spoken to the past and a reminder to listen to God and then look through the lens of righteousness to the beautiful path before them.

Yes, Psalms are uncomfortably timeless.  They tend to point to the perils and beauty of humanity that happens over and over again.  We, too, have wandered in a sort of exile this year.  The Covid pandemic has forced us away from each other and, for some of us, have taken away so much.  And for our society, this time has uncomfortably shined an all-too-bright light on things that we didn’t really confront in ourselves, in our community, in our nation, and in our world.  Nationally, this pandemic has had more of a dramatic effect on those in our society that were already victims of injustices.  But this time has made it worse and it forces us, like those post-exilic returnees of centuries ago, to look at ourselves and how we participate in allowing poverty and injustice and the isms that exist in our society.  It’s a hard lesson for us.  We cannot separate ourselves from each other.  We are on this pathway together.  And when one person is treated unjustly, when one person has little to eat, when one person doesn’t have fresh water or a safe place to live, when one person is hurt because of racism or sexism or any other type of exclusion, we have to open our eyes to the part we play in that.

Think about this.  God HAS laid a pathway for us.  But we’re not programmed robots.  The pathway winds and turns.  There are often multiple ways to go on it.  Parts of it are drowned in weeds and undergrowth that make it difficult to see and treacherous to travel.  Parts of it are too rocky for comfort or too wet and slippery for safe travel.  The point is that the pathway IS there; but maybe we’re called to pave the way, clearing away the debris and making the way not just for US to travel but for everyone who walks with us.

That’s the way that, as the Psalmist sings, God’s steadfast love and our faithfulness will meet and righteousness and peace will be inseparable.  It is that perfect love, hesed in Hebrew.  And it is in clearing this pathway, readying it for others to walk easily, without the hindrances that we allow to exist, that we will also find our way.  In this Season of Preparation, we are told to “Prepare the Way of the Lord.”  Have you ever really thought about what that means?  The path is there.  It’s been traveled before.  But it needs some of our work to make the Way visible, to make the Way that all of us can travel together.     

God travels wonderful paths with human beings; God does not arrange matters to suit our opinions and views, does not follow the path that humans would like to prescribe for God.  God’s path is free and original beyond all our ability to understand or to prove.  (Dietrich Bonhoeffer)

Grace and Peace,


Preparing the Way in the Midst of Our Clutter

Prepare the Way3He went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, 4as 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. 5Every 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; 6and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.’” (Luke 3: 3-6)


So once again we encounter the wild wilderness man named John, the one who wears animal skins and eats locusts and honey (well, at least he has a condiment!) John is probably not the most pastoral one among us. He’s forthright and direct, pulling no punches. He doesn’t worry about making it easy for his hearers. His message? “Turn around, turn around NOW, get with the program…prepare the way of the Lord, do it NOW.” And there were at least some who listened, some who followed, and probably some who actually turned around.


We hear that we are to prepare the way all the time, particularly this time of year. And so we clean and we deck and we trim and decorate and we cook and we shop (and we shop and we shop and we shop) and we wrap and we open and we sing carols and we light candles and we assume that we have prepared the way. We do it all to prepare for the day, to prepare for the day when we celebrate the birth of Christ. OK, now are you sure that’s what John meant?


The truth is, we read this exhortation to prepare and we assume that we have to get busy, that it all depends on us. But where does it say that we have to build the road? We are promised a room (King James translators called it a mansion) that is just for us, a place in the Kingdom. Don’t you think the Way is already there? What preparation does the road need? Maybe the preparing that we are called to do is to clear the road that is already there, to clear the Way of the stuff that we have brought with us that now clutters the road. Our lives are so chock full of stuff and events and worries. Maybe our preparation is not about decorating or making the road presentable. Maybe it is rather about clearing a path on the road that is already there.


Maybe John, rather than asking us to build a way to a God that was already in our midst, was calling us to clear our pathway of everything that we have brought with us so that we can travel lightly, so that we can be nimble, so that we can be ready to change. Prepare the Way of the Lord. Make the pathway straight and clear. Do not clutter the way with meaningless thoughts and things but leave a pathway so that we can find our way home. THIS Advent, let us find our way home.


God is not attained by a process of addition to anything in the soul, but by a process of subtraction. (Meister Eckhart)


Grace and Peace,



Comfort, O Comfort My People



Scripture Text:  Isaiah 40: 1-5Road through the desert

Comfort, O comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that she has served her term, that her penalty is paid, that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins.  A voice cries out: “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. Then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all people shall see it together, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”

“Comfort, O Comfort my people.”  That sounds nice.  It sounds warm and inviting, something that we can just sort of fold ourselves into and relax and let God take care of us.  Well, maybe.  But then what happens?  What we do with our lives after that?  The truth is, as much as we like to imagine a warm and fuzzy God that heaps everything we desire and everything we need to make our lives easy and comfortable on us, that’s not exactly the way it always is.  Here, comfort is not solace; here comfort is transformation.  God is promising something new.  These words begin with God’s initiative–to bring the exiles home.  Sure, it will mean ending their suffering and making their lives better.  But it is more.  It means that they will become something new–a new creation.  The former things have passed away.  God is not in the habit of rebuilding or “fixing” the way it is easy for us to imagine could happen.  God is the Creator, the great I AM, the one who brings newness and life.


So, God prepares a highway through the wilderness.  Now, don’t think that there wasn’t already a road there.  In the year 539 BCE, Cyrus of Persia conquered the Babylonians. Now he tended to be sort of a benign and tolerant ruler and so he allowed those who had been previously exiled from Jerusalem the chance to return home. So the people are beginning to return home, but to a home that was nothing like it was before. If you can imagine, these waves upon waves of people on this highway that leads toward Jerusalem—a Jerusalem that now lies in ruins without the Temple that used to be in the center of its life. This highway, a highway through the desert that, typical of the ancient world, was originally built to accommodate royal processions. Everything was done to make the highway smooth and clear.   The road was there, already made straight and smooth for the royals to travel.  And so the exiles, returning to “who knows what?” were on this road.


But, wait, look, over here.  God also promises a highway, smoothed and cleared of mountains and deep, treacherous valleys that would impede the journey.  God promises a holy highway built for a grand procession led by the Almighty God.  It’s still a road that you have to travel, but, rather than leading you to the ruins of the life you once knew, THIS road leads you Home.  And as we travel this road, God is creating and creating and creating the whole time, unfolding our life before us as long as we keep our eyes open to see what God is doing.  This is the way that the Glory of the Lord shall be revealed.


This is the road that Advent shows us.  It’s not one that takes us to the place that we’ve always known.  Advent shows us the newness that God is offering.  In the Advent season, we remember those generations upon generations that waited for a Savior.  We also prepare ourselves to remember once again how Christ came and comes.  But there’s another part of Advent that we miss.  It is this road, this road that we’re on that leads us to finally see things in a different light.  There is a Maori proverb that says “turn your face to the sun and the shadows will fall behind you.”  “Comfort, O Comfort my people.”  The Light is changing and you, even you, even now, are being made new.  “Then the Glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all people shall see it together.”


Learn to see and then you’ll know there is no end to the new worlds of our vision.  (Carlos Castaneda)


FOR TODAY:  What newness has God created in your life?  During this Advent, what newness can you find on the road?


Grace and Peace,