Join Grace for worship

Worship Theme: Prepare the Way for the Lord

Sermon Theme: Level the Path for the Lord

Have you ever hit a pothole so hard that you had to pull over to check and see if anything on your vehicle was broken? It’s a heart-stopping kind of feeling wondering what you just hit and what it might have done to your vehicle…Wondering if you have a flat tire or if there are even still 4 wheels attached. It can be a few moments of panic wondering if you are going to be able to make it home or if you are now stranded on the side of the road. And all because of a hole in the road.

We are entering that time of year again - pothole season. It’s that time of year - when water seeps under the roadways and then expands and weakens the roads. That’s how the dreaded pothole appears. Did you know that there is a pothole hotline in Milwaukee? Yes, you can call a special number to alert the city to the pothole that you drive past and hopefully around, on the way to work, and they’ll put it on a list to come and fill it!

In our reading from God’s Word today, we hear about crooked roads with bumps and hazards in them – but God isn’t giving us advice on how to have a smooth commute. He’s talking about our hearts. So, let’s focus those hearts on our Advent King and hear his encouragement to us to Level the Path for the Lord.

The first words we encounter in today’s reading might be ones that you normally zoom right past when you read them! It’s a list of political rulers who were in power at the time that the events of our reading took place. It’s not the kind of list that you’d probably memorize. Which Caesar was in Rome and which of the Herods held the power in Israel might make for a History Channel special that some might find interesting and others might find to be a Snooze-fest. But devotionally - as far as growing in the faith is concerned, their names are of little significance to you. Who these men were and what they did with their lives can be kind of trivial, but there are at least two things to consider. First, these events really happened. The list of actual rulers that the history books can confirm also then confirms the events of our reading as real history! And then there’s this: These were the prominent men of the day - men who were holding significant offices of political power, but when it came for a voice to be heard – it wasn’t one of theirs. They had their palaces and thrones, their servants and advisors, but the voice which would make a difference came from someplace else. Not from Rome or Damascus, or Jerusalem. The voice didn’t come from a capital city – in fact it didn’t come from a city at all – it came from the wilderness – the land where no one lived around the Jordan River.

John the Baptist was the voice who would call out from the desert. He was the one who would announce the coming of greatness and power. He would introduce a King of greater significance than Herod or Caesar. He would announce the coming of the Messiah!!

Luke tells us the reason that John’s was the voice to be heard. It’s because it was more than just his voice. He spoke the very words of God. Luke tells us: The word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the desert. God called John to be his prophet. This formula is the one that is used in almost all of the books written by the Old Testament prophets. They always share with us that God’s words came to them and with them came a call to speak. John was called to be God’s prophet and called to speak to the people about the Savior.

In our First Reading – Malachi prophesied about John the Baptist, calling him the messenger who would prepare the way. Luke tells us about John the Baptist too - using a quote about him from a different Old Testament prophet – the prophet Isaiah. Isaiah lived 800 years before the John the Baptist was born, but he speaks with clarity and precision. Isaiah tells what John’s message would be and even from where he would preach it! It was John’s message to “prepare the way for the Lord.

 The next few verses are ways that we can do that. Isaiah goes on to tell us what needs to be done for the coming of the King. He says, make straight paths for him. Every valley shall be filled in, every mountain and hill made low. The crooked roads shall become straight, the rough ways smooth.

These things that Isaiah desires are things that were done literally when kings came to visit foreign lands. Crews would work overtime preparing the way for the arrival of royalty. They would clear the roads and level the paths. If it was an important visit from a powerful king, they might even blast out some mountains and fill in some valleys, so that the king’s chariots wouldn’t have to go up and down the hills. They would take out unnecessary curves in the road and smooth out the bumps. They would do their best to level the paths, and they’d definitely fill in the potholes. How embarrassing it would be if the King got a flat tire on his chariot in your country!! That’s why they would do whatever they could to make sure their land looked better and more presentable for the king.

Luke and Isaiah both are not trying to tell us that we need to go into road construction? They are saying that we need to go into heart construction. God wants our hearts to be fixed before the King arrives. He wants us to prepare our hearts to see him for who he is in the manger. He wants our hearts to be ready and waiting for him when he returns.

On their own, our hearts are far from being ready for Jesus. We daily prove how far our hearts are from the ones that God demands. We quickly fall into temptations to live life for ourselves and by our own rules. We easily follow our hearts desires instead of concerning ourselves with God’s demands. Our hearts are stubborn and calloused and fully unprepared to meet God. Our hearts aren’t ready to meet God and left alone, we can’t fix that problem either.

The sin in our lives are bumps in the road. But they are more than an inconvenience as we go our merry way, these bumps make the road inaccessible! The potholes of sin are quite literally death traps on our way. We cannot traverse the way to God because of the sin in our lives. Our sinful hearts prevent us from standing before our God. The way is impassable and the task impossible. Sin makes our lives a wreck!

But to save us from a fiery crash into hell that we deserve, Christ Jesus rode the path of life in our place. In his perfection, he was able to avoid the pitfalls of temptation and the potholes of sin. He lived his life blamelessly and then gave us that perfection. He laid his life down to be our sacrifice and willingly shed his perfect blood so that we could be forgiven. Jesus bridged the gap between sinners and our holy God. With the credit for his perfection now on our account – now we can stand in God’s presence, here on earth and forever.

On our own, we could never answer the call to Level the Path for the Lord but with Jesus in our lives, we now have the power to do just that! He has claimed a place in our hearts. And now we can now look forward to his arrival. We can long for his return, because he makes our hearts ready to receive him. He is the power in our hearts which Levels the Path for the Lord. He opens our eyes to see us for who we are and to see him for who he is. He opens our hearts to confess our sins and to live our lives in repentance. He strengthens us to avoid the pitfalls of temptations and the obstacles that stand in the path between us and God. Our God himself levels the path for Jesus to enter our hearts. He’s declared us “not guilty” and calls us to be his own.

This Advent season and throughout the year, we can continue to Level the Path for the Lord. We can seek to hear the voice that speaks to us in his Word. The more time we spend in his Word, the more we will appreciate God’s love for us, the more we will recognize just how remarkable God’s grace is. We’ll be reminded just how much we need Jesus and just how blessed we are to have him as our King! He works in our hearts a knowledge of right and wrong and a desire to do what is right and to live godly lives. He works in our lives a desire to serve him and one another and to bring glory to God in all that we do. He is that power in our lives that continues to level the path and as we seek more and more fervently to receive our King and to be ready when he chooses to return.

The quote from Isaiah ends with a fitting line. He says, and all people will see God’s salvation. We see God’s salvation as our Jesus is placed in the manger. We see his salvation as the gospel does it’s work and creates faith in our hearts. And we’ll see his salvation when he fulfills all promises and returns to take us to be with him forever. As surely as he’s come into our world and into our hearts through faith, he will return to judge and to take the faithful with him to heaven. And because he’s done it all, because he’s given us his grace, because he’s defeated our enemies, because he’s loved us with an everlasting love – we can welcome his return. The path in our hearts is level. We are ready to meet the King and to live in his kingdom forever.

I hope you recognize your role in that last line from Isaiah. Isaiah announced the coming Savior. John the Baptist announced his coming as well. And today you and I are called on to announce his coming. We are the voice calling those in our lives to recognize his love. We are the ones urging others to repent of their sins, to turn from their unbelief, and to see God’s salvation through Jesus. God equips us for that task. We are the voices that proclaim his love. We can help others to see and to become the recipients of God’s saving love. It’s through us then that the words come true again and all people will see God’s salvation.

If it was up to us to be ready for the arrival of our King, we’d fail horribly. But since it’s up to Jesus, we know that our hearts are ready. We’ve received him through faith and he’s made us ready for his return as well. Judgment Day is a day for the faithful to long for and to rejoice in. Come, Lord Jesus, quickly come! God bless you this Advent season as you seek to Level the Path for the Lord. Amen. 

____

​Be sure to subscribe so as to not miss future worship services, and please consider sending financial gifts to support the ministry of Grace Lutheran Church:

Online Giving: http://www.gracedowntown.org/giving/
Giving By Mail: Make checks out to "Grace Lutheran Church," and send to:

Grace Lutheran Church
1209 N. Broadway
Milwaukee, WI 53202