A sermon preached by Pastor Robert Schaefer
First and Spring Creek Lutheran Churches
Second Sunday in Advent – December 4, 2005
Text: Isaiah 40:3-5
Friends in Christ, grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
“A voice cries out: ‘In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain.”
A couple years back the City of Hutchinson decided to prepare the way to my parents’ house.
As a kid, I’d seen other streets in town torn up over the course of a summer and then filled back in before the snow came. I remember wondering how anybody could keep on living in those neighborhoods – Where did they park? How did they unload their groceries? Didn’t the noise and the dust drive them nuts? In all the years my family lived in that house, though, Dale Street had been spared the ordeal of a summer construction project. Now, years after I’d moved out, I got to experience it through my Mom and Dad’s eyes.
On July 17, Mom e-mailed me: “Dale Street is gone!” At this point in here note, there’s a big frowny face. “I'm not going to like this very much,” Mom continues. “The noise, dust and inconvenience are the pits!”
A few days later, there’s this from Hutchinson: “The road crew was out here around 6 today...every day is an adventure around here right now! It was so nice over the weekend to be able to get places without going way out of the way to get there.”
On October 7, after a summer of work, Mom reported: “The road work seems to be moving forward around here. Yesterday they spent the whole day packing and leveling the street...I'm thinking the blacktop will be put down any day. We still don't have sidewalks or the driveway apron...just curb and gutter, so it will be a while until we can drive in yet.”
By the time I was home for Thanksgiving, my family was able to celebrate with real gratitude the end of the construction season and their own special part in it.
Now, as such projects go, the Dale Street effort was fairly minor. There were no bridges involved. The only traffic controls on Dale Street were our stop signs, so there were no red, green and yellow lights to be installed. Put next to the work of raising an apartment building or uprooting Fargo’s 45th Street, and my parents’ summer of construction looks pretty minor.
Still, when I visited that summer, I saw plenty of chaos. There were heaps of dirt piled up taller than me – although that’s not as high as it sounds! Some places in the street I grew up on had given up their cracks and potholes to reveal gaping pits where the work crews were addressing our storm sewers. In the place of straight yellow lines and cars parked neatly by the curb, there were yard after yard of dusty brown dirt, with bobcats and backhoes resting at absurd angles across the middle of the road. Although it wasn’t the biggest construction project in the history of the race, I can’t say my folks were exaggerating when they described the nuisance outside their front window.
Construction projects are like that. They’re all about tearing up one thing and erecting another. There’s plenty of dirt, abundant noise. In the process of making a thing better, there’s always that in-between time when things have to become a lot worse, and during the construction season, that usually means torn-up blacktop and “road closed to through traffic” signs. Eventually, though, the dust settles, and things are back to the way they were – better, in fact, since whether my parents could see all the improvements their street had received, old Dale, like every other former construction area, had been improved with whatever upgrades the city engineers (the men with the plans in hand) had seen were needful.
We live in the midst of a construction season, and all around us is the chaos of a work zone, Isaiah declares. There is much that needs to be improved in time for the Day of the Lord – huge projects that the crews of heaven must see to before it comes. On Dale street, potholes were filled; in the world around us, think more like canyons and valleys. Back in Hutchinson, bumps were smoothed; the laborers toiling away at the royal highway have mountains to contend with! The straight and level road of the Lord to his people, has been under construction for a very long time, indeed, and there is much to be plowed away of our mountainous sin…so much to be filled of our cavernous fears and despair. The work that is going on all around us, although just out of our sight, is a construction project that would put the pyramids to shame, says John the Baptist, a work that will continue right to the very edge of time, before our Lord comes.
It’s natural for us to be impatient with the wait, and frustrated with the cycles of tearing down and building up. As my parents’ e-mail makes clear, life in a construction zone is no fun. It’s natural to be fed up with the whole business, to want the good end to the project without the fuss of getting there…maybe even to question the wisdom of the engineers and the competency of the workers. God’s royal highway, the spiritual path of Christ’s return, has frustrated many, many honest people. Peter wrote to soothe the concerns of second- and third-generation Christians who wondered why it was taking so long? For hundreds and thousands of years, God’s faithful people have looked at this work-in-progress and cried out, How long, Lord? The Church’s constant prayer is “Amen! Come, Lord Jesus!” – a longing for the chaos to be done with and the project at last finished.
We probably wish for the work to be done without the pain of construction, but it’s no more realistic to expect our Lord’s way to be finished this way than it is to think Dale Street could simply spring forth whole, a finished project before the work even began. There’s nothing to do for these construction woes than to wait them out and know that the work is progressing.
But our wishful thinking isn’t the only fuss God’s complaint desk endures. How many of us have simply grown sick of this in-between time and its mess, and have let it be known that we have our doubts about the wisdom of heaven’s great Architect, or that we doubt the sincerity and ability of the workers he has set about getting the job done? Patience isn’t our strong suit in the midst of the machines of construction. It’s natural that the wait will be difficult, but no matter what we believe, God’s project in this world is moving steadily toward completion. It’s on schedule, it’s achieving just what it needs to. It will be ready on time, and there will be no denying that it was worth the wait.
As Advent deepens and we inch daily nearer to our Christmas celebration, we hear more clearly in the cold air the clanks and rumbles of this work zone earth. When the dust swirls around us, the taste of it reminds us that what God’s begun here is not yet finished. It’s coming, oh yes, it’s coming along…but it’s not ready yet. But even as we’re more aware of the work all around us, we’re reminded again and again that it is worth it. The project God’s bringing to completion is nothing less than the saving of this world. Though it’s messy, it’s absolutely worth waiting for.
So “comfort, comfort!” cries Isaiah, and I echo, “patience, patience!” Though in the thick of the wait all construction projects seem never-ending and ill-advised, there comes a day (and sooner than we think) when the trouble is finished and the good the project was always intended for becomes clear. God’s project on earth is no different. Let us live in this construction zone with patience and even excitement at what is to come, and trust that God is on schedule, getting his saving work done all around us each day. In the end, there will be no denying that it was worth it. Amen.