Baruch 5:1-9; Luke 3:1-6
The Rev. Melanie McCarley
Marblehead, Massachusetts is a quaint, historic town—the kind of place where the dates on the gravestones predate the Revolutionary War. History is lurking around every corner. Like many towns in Massachusetts (and, certainly, much like our fair city of Boston), urban planners had no involvement in laying out the streets in these villages and towns. Unlike the practical grid designs for towns and cities found in the Midwest our streets in the Northeast are cow paths which were eventually paved. Streets in this part of the country wind up and down and all around—if you’re looking for a straight road, good luck. Few are to be found. Our roads are enough to make a person who likes to get from here to there in the least time possible, groan in frustration.
But back to Marblehead, where we encounter the Lafayette House (which is pictured on the back of today’s program). Look closely, and you will see that the left front corner of the house has been cut away. Now, it is likely that this accommodation was made when it was discovered that it would be easier for coal wagons to make their way down this street without that corner. Another theory goes that removing the corner of the house made the flow easier for water and sewage. However, the story that has stuck is this: In 1824 General Marquis de Lafayette came to visit. He was met at the harbor and was given a tour of the town in a carriage pulled by six white horses. Now, this particular house sits at the corner of not three, not four, but five converging streets. It was a rainy day and the mud alone made it hard for the horses to navigate. They could not make the turn and so legend has it that someone took an ax and started chopping away at the corner of this house, making it possible for the General to pass. And to this day it is known as the Lafayette House. (Janet Hunt, “Dancing with the Word”)
Now, all logic would argue against the veracity of this story. And yet, true or not, it brings to mind the urgency of the exhortation of John the Baptist in today’s lesson: “Prepare the way of the Lord, make his 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.’’
John’s words come from the Book of Baruch, which formed our first lesson of the day. We are told; “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.”
Like many of us, I come from a place of hills and trees. I spent some time in the Midwest—and I missed the comfort of the valleys and hills from whence I came. So, for quite a while the “good news” of this passage eluded me. After all, I spent several years trying to navigate back to hills and trees—and here is the Book of Baruch and John the Baptist waxing eloquent about the joy of flat land. What gives?
Safety and speed—that’s what. The Holy Land is filled with steep hills and deep valleys—which is all well and good if you happen to be a goat….or a bandit. Those hills and rocky crevasses were the perfect place to launch an attack on an unsuspecting traveler or an invading army. Travel wasn’t easy in the days of Baruch or John the Baptist….or, quite frankly, for those of us trying to get to Boston at rush hour or navigate Marblehead in tourist season.
So, imagine that you are a people who are in need of the arrival of your king—perhaps you are threatened by invaders; maybe you have been confronted with disaster. No matter the reason, you are in desperate need of your King, and his army so the last thing you need is for him to get stuck trying to get his chariot up a steep hill, or finding himself waylaid and besieged by bandits, or having to go miles out of his way to navigate a particularly treacherous piece of ground. You don’t want the King and his Army to be about the business of navigating poorly designed and badly maintained cow paths. No, you want him and the army he commands to get to you the quickest way possible—and that is… a flat highway—where no bandits can hide and no obstacles hinder the way of the Almighty. “Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight!”
You may wonder what any of this has to do with us? I think back to that house in Marblehead. The decision to chop away a portion of a house seems like such an extreme response to a problem; but if you pause to think about it, it is immanently practical. Sometimes, in order to make way, we have to find ourselves willing to make drastic changes—whether it be in our landscape, our buildings, or our person.
John the Baptist and the author of the Book of Baruch, they weren’t speaking of the landscape of the Holy Land, so much as they were speaking of the landscape of the spiritual lives of the people of God. The lesson for today from the Book of Baruch begins: “Take off the garment of your sorrow and affliction, O Jerusalem, and put on forever the beauty of the glory from God. Put on the robe of the righteousness that comes from God; put on your head the diadem of the glory of the Everlasting; for God will show your splendor everywhere under heaven.”
I wonder, what would it mean for us to spend as much time preparing ourselves for the coming of the Lord as we do in preparing our homes for the beauty of this season? What might you need to do to brighten your interior self so that you might shine with the glory of God?
It’s another holiday fraught with worries from the Coronavirus and the new Omnicrom variant; we have shipping delays, inflation and the threat of bad weather which to contend. There are a host of reasons to be anxious and for which to worry. Ask yourself what you might need to do to make way for the coming of the Lord. Do you need to do some interior remodeling—somewhat akin to chopping out a portion of a house, to make way for the arrival of your God? Perhaps you need to give something up that has become a burden; or take something on that would be a joy. Maybe investing more time in prayer, reading an Advent devotional, or committing a portion of your Christmas purchasing power to charitable giving will make the right difference. Whatever you need to do—heed the hope spoken of in the Book of Baruch and the urgency found in the proclamation of John the Baptist. Make way—go so far as to make a drastic change, even—to hasten the coming of your King. In Jesus’ name. Amen.