(Luke 3: 1-6)


No doubt you’ve all seen a cartoon or a meme on social media depicting a county road crew patching a pothole.  You see one guy with a shovel of pothole patch filling the hole while a half dozen or more crew members standby watching.  Maybe you’ve even driven by one of these projects and observed something similar and you shake your head as the flagger waves you through.  Now in all fairness, the other workers all have their assignments and will do their part in filling the pothole and making the way straight and smooth for your journey the next time you pass that way.


And making the way smooth and straight is what the Apostle Luke is talking about in our scripture reading for this morning.  Luke starts out by giving us some background information that helps to establish the time period for his Gentile readers.  The Jewish believers knew the back story so who was doing what at the time was irrelevant to them.  He tells us that it was during the fifteenth year of the rule of the Roman Emperor Tiberius, when Pontius Pilate was the governor over Judea, and Herod was the ruler over Galilee when what he’s about to tell you takes place.  It was during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas that God’s word came to the region of the Jordan River.  The people were being called by this prophet to be baptized to show that they were changing their hearts and lives, wanting God to forgive their sins.  Luke says: This is just as it was written in the scroll of the words of Isaiah the prophet.  A voice crying out in the wilderness: “Prepare the way for the Lord; make his paths straight.  Every valley will be filled, and every mountain and hill will be leveled.  The crooked will be made straight and the rough places made smooth.  All humanity will see God’s salvation.”  quoting Isaiah 40: 3-5.  Luke is referring to John the Baptist as the lone voice in the wilderness who was busy baptizing people in the Jordan River who had heard his teachings about the one to come who offered salvation from sin.  Luke is telling his Gentile readers that this isn’t just a “Jewish” thing when he references the Old Testament prophet Isaiah who proclaims that “all humanity will see God’s salvation.”


John the Baptist was announcing the coming of the Messiah, of Jesus Christ who was about to begin his short ministry that would one day transform the world.  John, by quoting Isaiah, was telling his listeners to prepare the way for the coming of the Lord, to make his paths straight, as in not difficult.  This would have made sense to those hearing this proclamation in first century Galilee.  In John’s day, before a king would take a trip messengers would tell those he was planning to visit to prepare the roads for the king’s entourage.  Remove the obstacles, fill the potholes, smooth out the bumps in the road so the king will have a safe and enjoyable trip.  And the Romans were master road builders themselves as many of their roads remain to this day, as opposed to the shock absorber test tracks we drive on today.  By making this analogy, John is also telling his listeners to make their lives ready, straighten out their own lives, so the Lord could more easily come to them.


Okay, you’re thinking that was then and Christ has come and gone.  How does that apply to us?  Good question and one that was addressed by the Apostle Paul in his letter to the Philippians which was written long after Christ’s crucifixion.  For Paul the way still needs to be made straight for Christ’s promised return.  And this is the message he is delivering to one of his favorite churches he planted in Philippi during his second missionary journey.  In Philippians 1: 3-11 he writes to the faithful urging them to continue all the work their church is doing in bringing people to Christ.  Paul firmly believes that Jesus’ work established during his ministry set the mission work of God in the world and he is grateful to have a church like the one in Philippi as his partner and patron in supporting all he is doing to spread the gospel.  Paul says: I’m glad because of the way you have been my partners in the ministry of the gospel from the time you first believed until now.  I’m sure about this: the one who started a good work in you will stay with you to complete the job by the day of Christ Jesus.  Paul is confirming in them that their work is not done, that Jesus will return, and that the path must be made straight and smooth.  He continues by saying: This is my prayer: that your love might become even more and more rich with knowledge and all kinds of insight.  I pray this so that you will be able to decide what really matters and so you will be sincere and blameless on the day of Christ.  He wants their spirituality and faith to continue to grow and that they ignore what the world has to offer devoting their lives to what really matters; living a Christ-like life in all that they do.  He prays that they will then be filled with the fruit of righteousness, which comes from Jesus Christ, in order to give glory and praise to God.  He knows that people will praise God for the work they do in Jesus’ name thereby glorifying God.


And that’s the message for us as we prepare to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ and all that he means to us and a world looking for peace and security.  For us, almost two thousand years later, preparing the way means clearing aside the baggage of the past and the doubts of the present in order to let him come into our lives.  Now this doesn’t mean that you have to get rid of all your sin or wrongdoing before you can accept Christ.  Rather, when you accept him, he takes care of all your sinfulness and will take you the rest of the way, unencumbered by your baggage.  We, like the Philippians, must be formed into persons who overflow with a love shaped by a relationship with God through Christ and by an embrace of God’s holy mission.  You see, this repentance, this salvation has two sides: turning away from sin and turning towards God.  To be truly repentant we must do both.  We can’t make the way straight for others if we just turn away from sin.  We also have to turn to God and embrace his mission for the world, for those searching for redemption.


The gospel comes to people and places on its way to others, through a community of people gathered for the advancement of a cause.  The church in Philippi knew it and we know it.  This mission, this making the Lord’s path straight, cannot be done unless we grow, like the Philippians, in our love making choices in our lives and in the life of our church, that is in line with God’s character and plans for his earthly kingdom.  This growth in Christ-like love will maximize our effectiveness for God as we recognize opportunities for service and move in tune with the Spirit.  As we discern what really matters our Christian walk will become sincere and blameless.  We will be filled with the fruit of righteousness that affirms the transformation we have experienced as a result of our relationship with Jesus Christ.  We will have a partnership with God in his mission field that will reflect his divine character in the world.  Like the Philippians, we must be willing to be used by God for whatever he needs us to do.

So, the God who began a good work in us continues it throughout our lifetime and will finish it when we finally get to meet him face-to-face.  We can do this because the Holy Spirit lives in us enabling us to be more Christ-like every day.  God will help us grow in grace until he has completed his work in our lives, but that day won’t come until we fill in all of those potholes in our lives, straighten out the path, and make the rough places smooth so that one day all humanity will see God’s salvation.


Let us pray.


Come thou long-expected Jesus, born to set they people free; from our fears and sins release us, let us find our rest in thee.  Gracious and loving Father, how we long for the day your son, our Savior, returns to rule in perfect love and harmony.  Move us Lord to do all we can with what we have to make the path straight for the Lord.  Use us to do thy will to make the crooked straight and the rough places smooth so that upon his return all humanity will see your salvation.  In Jesus’ name, we pray, Amen.