First United Methodist Church – Omaha
Rev. Kent H. Little
December 9, 2018
Second Sunday of Advent
Scripture: Luke 3:1-6
Sermon: “Mr. Rogers’ Christmas: The Gifts of the Season – Peace”
Prepare the way of the Lord, make God’s 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…
Think about it… in the context of when this was written, in the Hebrew Scriptures… in the context of when it was written and shared in the Second Testament… travel was not an easy think. Oh, there were roads, but compared to the 21st Century they were treacherous and difficult. And so for the Prophet Isaiah and for the Prophet John the Baptist, these words were not idly spoken… this would have been a formidable task.
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!
There will come a day, says the Lord when everything will be easier… the road to salvation, so to speak…will not be so treacherous… “my law will be written on your hearts” the prophet Jeremiah said.
I took a Geology 101 class in undergraduate school as an elective but was not prepared for how much I enjoyed it. I found it fascinating. One of my favorite things to do is to drive through the high mountains of Colorado and see the intrusive igneous rock and striations where they have cut through to make the road. In my mind’s eye and imagination, I watch the crashing of the tectonic plates in fast forward… these mountains were created out of violent thrusts of energy and magma. Of course, TruDee is usually reminding me to keep my eyes on the road. But I always ponder the work it took to create, tame, smooth these chaos ridden and violently created mountains into these roads from this sheer mountain rock, and not only the technology that created the road but the beauty of the mountain made low, rough ways made smooth, and the crooked ways made straight. It is amazing what can be done to create a road through such valleys and mountain tops to make the way easier to pass.
This the God to whom John is pointing. John has been tasked with preparing the way for the one to come. Sometimes, just as aside, this may be a whole different sermon, when I listen, so to speak, to John’s message, I want to ask him now… do you think you missed Jesus message just a bit? Not that Jesus teachings did not often contain a sharp edge to them… but when I read the message of the Baptist compared to what I read in the words we have from Jesus… there just isn’t quite as much dire circumstance and judgement in Jesus’ preaching. Then I think of this passage about 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. I ask if maybe why it was so different is that there needed to be some pretty serious construction and demolition done on the way before Jesus came on the scene. I think about the imagery from other places in our scriptures that speaks of a new heaven and a new earth. Somehow the whole of what this good green earth looks like with its rough ways, its valleys, mountains, crooked roads… made smooth… from the terrain ridden globe we have now to a smooth as a billiard ball earth… and I think…how boring.
And with this being the Second Sunday of Advent and the theme of peace I went in addition to my commentaries to a small book by Buddhist Monk Thich Nhat Hahn entitled, Being Peace. A dog-eared page and an underlined entry tapping into Taoist thought when he writes, “It is often said that the Buddha’s teaching is only a raft to help you cross the river, a finger pointing to the moon. Don’t mistake the finger for the moon. The raft is not the shore. I f we cling to the raft, if we cling to the finger, we miss everything.”1 Here I am pondering this language from Isaiah and Luke with a literalist lens and perhaps that is not the intent… Actually I would say not perhaps, but that it is not the intent. John, we are told in Luke, is going into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. This making the way smooth is not about literal valleys, rocks, mountains… this is a heart thing. Here is where Jesus and John do connect… some of Jesus first words at the beginning of his ministry were, “Repent for the kindom of God has come near.” Jesus, as many scholars suggest, a follower/disciple of John before he begins his own ministry carries on this tradition… the kindom of God is near… the kindom of God is within you… you are forgiven… now, repent… “turn” as it means… back to the Way of God. This smoothing of the way… making the crooked straight… raising the valleys… lowering the mountains is about the mind, body, and spirit… the heart of who we are…this is a spiritual thing… it is where we find peace.
Mr. Rogers spoke of the peace and its triumph over war, but he also said, “Peace means far more than the opposite of war.”2 If you want world peace, you have to start here to find it. Preparing our way this Advent Season for the celebration of the birth of love in our midst, the coming One… is by seeking peace within that we might connect with a world torn by the violence and chaos of word and deed. And in our current culture we seem increasingly so, to be losing the ability to connect without demeaning, to converse without condemning, and engage without belittling. But if we are going to do that… we need to start with ourselves. To talk with ourselves, if you will, about our own struggles and then reach out to heal the divide and bridge the chasm that is ever widening in our land. Mr. Rogers touched on this when he wrote, Anything that’s human is mentionable, and anything that is mentionable can be more manageable. When we can talk about our feelings, they become less overwhelming, less upsetting, and less scary. The people we trust with that important talk can help us know that we are not alone. It is about being willing to be vulnerable and connect with others.
He went on to say, “We live in a world in which we need to share responsibility. It’s easy to say ‘It’s not my child, not my community, not my world, not my problem. ’ Then there are those who see the need and respond. I consider those people my heroes.” Mr. Rogers knew it was about community, relationships, but we can’t build healthy relationships unless we are able to find peace within ourselves. I think of my own meditation practices to nurture my search for peace… I confess I struggle in my journey of peace and meditation… I do not think I am very good at it. Perhaps that is why they call it practicing meditation. I remember the first time I read Hahn’s comment on meditation when he wrote, “Meditation is not to separate yourself from the world, but rather to prepare yourself to enter the world. Suppose you are in the desert, and you only have one glass of muddy water. You have to transform the muddy water into clear water to drink, you cannot just throw it away. So you let it settle for a while, and clear water will appear.” Peace is an inward journey embracing and owning one’s chaos and struggle and letting it settle within so that one can be peace, be presence not separate from the chaos and struggle of the world but a peaceful presence in the midst of the struggle and pain that brings more peace to the world around you.
So, this Advent season, as we continue on this journey of the Gifts of the Season and ponder Hope and Peace… make sure you take some time to let the chaos and busyness of the Season settle from time to time… so that you might see more clearly to Hope before you. Take time so you might more fully embrace the gift of Peace in your being so that Every valley of your mind shall be filled, and every mountain and hill of your soul shall be made low, and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways within your heart be made smooth. Take time so you might be Peace in a world so desperately in need of such a gift. May it be so… May it be today. Amen.
1 Hanh, Thich Nhat, (1996) Being Peace, Parallax Press, Berkeley, California.
2 Rogers, Fred, (2003) The World According to Mr. Rogers, Important Things to Remember, Hyperion, New York, New York