December 3, 2018
Prepare the royal highway;
the King of kings is near!
Let ev'ry hill and valley
a level road appear!
Then greet the King of glory,
foretold in sacred story:
Hosanna to the Lord,
for he fulfills God's word!
[Evangelical Lutheran Worship #264]
The lectionary readings for this coming Sunday, December 9, 2018, the Second Sunday of Advent, are as follows:
The news last week hit most Northeastern Ohioans with the full force of a thunderclap.
The General Motors plant, which produces the Chevrolet Cruze automobile, would be shuttering its doors in 2019, putting 1500 workers out of jobs. The plant had scaled down from three shifts to one in previous months, so this final wave of cuts could have been foretold, some would say.
Yet no news of plant closings, whether unexpected or anticipated, is ever welcome, especially to a region that has experienced more than its share of industrial setbacks in recent history.
It's hard not to personalize these words. Though the story made headlines in the New York Times, this is not news of some forest fire or hurricane thousands of miles away. It's happening right in our back yard-right here and right now. The people affected are us. We attend church together. Our children go to the same schools. We shop in the same local stores. We're all in this together, trite as that may sound.
To accentuate that thought, I heard the mayor of Lordstown, Arno Hill, say on a National Public Radio interview last week, "for every job General Motors has here, there are seven other jobs that are spun off from that, whether that be a grocery store, department store, a restaurant, a doctor's office, a car dealership. And everything will take a hit."
As I was reading the account of that vigil, I couldn't help but note, with somewhat bitter irony, that the news of the auto plant closing comes just ahead of the Gospel reading for this coming Second Sunday of Advent, which traditionally introduces images of roads and highways, and this year focuses on John the Baptist's proclaiming, "Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight."
I usually take time in sermons to give the back story to this reading, and at the risk of making this posting longer than normal, I think it's worth explaining here.
These verses from the Gospel according to Luke (and borrowed from the prophet Isaiah) use language from a well-known political practice of the ancient world. When a king was travelling his empire, the roads were upgraded and improved prior to his arrival. It was particularly common during the expansion of the Roman Empire; wherever Caesar travelled, road gangs would go before him making sure his travel was smooth and direct.
I've also read that some of the great highways and major routes of Europe that were used as main roads until quite recently were originally constructed for this purpose, and are "royal roads", built for the Emperor. Sometimes whole mountains were moved, and valleys leveled. In one case the course of a river was changed to make way for a highway; it was a major engineering feat. Some have lasted centuries.
But in this case, this highway building was a metaphor for Israel's call to repentance, to prepare the way for God to have access to their lives so that they would be ready for the Savior that God was sending.
As we in Northeastern Ohio prepare for Christ's coming at Christmas, we are stunned and saddened by the news of job losses. But rather than look for villains to malign for our misfortune, let us take comfort in the good news that we serve a God who loves and cares for us and has sent a son to save us. I find consolation in the words of our alternate first reading from Baruch:
"For God has ordered that every high mountain and the everlasting hills be made low and the valleys filled up, to make level ground, so that Israel may walk safely in the glory of God." [Baruch 5:7]
Indeed, the road may be rough at this precise moment for the people of Northeastern Ohio. But as the people of God, we live in the hope and assurance that Christ will come again; and in the meantime, we are called to prepare the way of the Lord, in Lordstown and elsewhere; to witness to the Lord's coming by caring for each other, trusting that the God of mercy and righteousness will satisfy all our needs and fill us with joy and gladness as we await that day when, "every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth." [Luke 3:5]
On Wednesday and Thursday of this week I will be at Pokagon State Park in Angola, Indiana, to gather with my bishop colleagues from the six synods of Region Six for a brief time of prayer, mutual sharing, and purposeful planning for the upcoming year. I always look forward to this time together with my sister and brother bishops. It is life-giving to my ministry for us to check in with each other, learn from each other, rejoice with each other, and support each other in this blessed but challenging work to which God has called us.
This coming Second Sunday of Advent, December 9, I will be with the people of God at St. Paul Lutheran Church in Ontario, Ohio, to preach and to synodically authorize TEEM candidate Jonathan Stufft as lay minister. Jonathan will serve the people of St. Paul as he continues his theological studies leading toward ordination into the ministry of Word and Sacrament.
This week and always, may your love overflow more and more with knowledge and full insight to help you to determine what is best, so that in the day of Christ you may be pure and blameless. [Philippians 1:9-10]
+Bishop Abraham Allende