Advent II—Year C, Baruch 5:1-9, Canticle 16, Philippians 1:3-11, Luke 3:1-6
I love our mountains. I love the high mountains, the beautiful deep valleys, the crooked roads, and the rough terrain. I love all of it. So why would God want to make the mountains low and fill up the valleys—why would God want to straighten out the crooked roads and smooth out those rough places?
A little aerobic action here. Okay, you are the mountains and the hills. You are down in the valleys. You are on a crooked road over here. And you are a rough place and you are behind that rough place. Okay, you in the valley, can you see that person over in the far corner? You tall mountain in the back, can you see so-and-so in the valley? How about you on the crooked road, can you see around that bend to see so-and-so up here? And you behind the rough place, can you see back in that corner?
Okay, mountains, sit down. Valley people stand up. Crooked road, come round here straight. And rough place, smooth out. How can you see now?
I remember the first, and only time, I drove out west. I was 21 and made a cross-country trip with my parents in a Ford Mustang. That is a very small car, and Kentucky to California is a very long way. It was a trip for the books. And I remember getting to about Kansas. Now, I grew up in the Ohio Valley; I had never seen that kind of flat. In fact, in doing my background work for this sermon, I found an article that stated that Kansas is actually flatter than a pancake. Honestly, researchers from Texas State University and Arizona State University gathered data from US Geological Survey for the state of Kansas and gathered pancakes from the International House of Pancakes and headed into the lab. The data proved it; when the data was extrapolated, Kansas was actually flatter than the variations on the top of an IHOP pancake. But I digress.
The thing that struck me about all that flatness was that you could see. You could see forever in every direction. You could turn in a circle and see the horizon everywhere you looked. You could see there; you could see things I couldn’t see in the Ohio Valley; you could see things that we can’t see here in our beloved mountains.
The reasons for all this leveling, raising, straightening, and smoothing work are twofold this morning. In the Collect, it’s to prepare the way for our salvation. In Baruch, it’s so that Israel may walk safely in the glory of God. In Luke, it’s so all flesh shall see the salvation of our God. This is two-directional. This is about our salvation, and this is about seeing the salvation of God. In English, salvation goes back to the latin word for save which goes back to the latin word for safe which is related to the greek for to save or to keep safe which means to make whole, to make well, to heal, to restore to health.
What on earth does the salvation of God mean? Well, maybe it has something to do with God’s wholeness, with the fullness of God. And our salvation? Maybe that has to do with our wholeness, our healing, our fullness, our restoration.
What the wide-open horizon does is give us, and everybody else in the world, all flesh, the ability to see this wholeness of God, the fullness of the Divine. And it gives a space for God to see the fullness of us because there is simply no place to hide. If we think of those mountains as those parts of ourselves that we want the world to see, kind of the face we show the world, then the valleys are those parts of ourselves we want to keep tucked away out of plain view. And the crooked places in our lives, or the rough places, well, none of us wants those to be known.
But when it all gets leveled and raised and straightened and smoothed, well that’s a way of saying, in the words of Richard Rohr, “Eveything belongs.” It all belongs. And in that spacious place where it is all out in the open, we give God complete access to all of who we are, as if God didn’t already know, but sometimes, we live as if we think we can keep that stuff from God. God may know, but it is so important for us to live in the glorious knowledge that God does know all those parts of our being, and God’s verdict still stands, we are God’s beloved.
And out in that wide-open space, maybe we can see the fullness of God in a way we have not seen God before. Maybe parts of God that, up to this point in our lives, have been hidden from us, maybe those parts of God now come into full view and allow us to relate to God in whole new ways.
If our prayers and lessons are right this morning, nothing less than salvation is at stake, ours and God’s. But this isn’t a salvation saving us from the eternal fires of hell. This is a salvation taking us into a deeper wholeness, a greater fullness, a more profound joy; this is deeply restorative.
So, Advent is a time to find the wide-open spaces where we can see God anew, and where we, with God’s help, can recalibrate our lives. What needs to be brought low, things that have gotten out of proportion in our lives? What mountains of distraction in our lives need to be leveled? What needs to be lifted up, parts of our lives or our selves that we have been neglecting? What paths need straightening because the crooked ones are draining us of our energy and taking us from our deepest loves? What places in our lives and relationships have just been rough and are in desperate need of some smoothing?
God knows the fullness of who we are, but we need a season like Advent so that we can rediscover the fullness of that person that God made and longs for us to be.
Keep awake, watch, look—these are the watchwords of Advent. Today we add one more invitation, one more spiritual practice—in this season of Advent, may we lift our eyes to the horizon in every direction, so that we can see salvation with fresh eyes and find our feet walking on a new path where all things are possible, for God, for us, and for all of creation. Amen.
The Rev. Cynthia K. R. Banks
St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, Boone, NC
December 9, 2012