Sunday, November 29, 2015

One Brick at a Time: Preparing the Way of the Lord

Luke 3:1-6

They finished laying the brick work on what was once a through street outside my office window a few weeks ago. The city's decision to expand the public library resulted in them closing our street permanently in order to accommodate the addition. They removed the bricks for a season and stored them away in a warehouse. Then they hauled them out again and laid them one by one, end to end, to finish the cul-de-sac which now provides access to our building's main entrance. Yes, most of the streets in our city are ordinary pavement. A few, however, reflect a time long past before asphalt replaced the quaint bricks which lined our paths.

One brick at a time, they were arranged, as you can see in the picture above.

As I hear John the Baptist today hearkening back to the promises of Isaiah to a people in exile, I am reminded that preparing a way through the wilderness was more similar to this than what we in this century are normally accustomed to. And yet, I am reminded of a passing image of a young man with a shovel working to even out a road in Tanzania when I traveled there some years ago now. For most of time, making such ways has been hard work: one foot, yard, one brick at a time.

And so I wonder now if this is perhaps a way to think about our Advent journey. I get so captured by big, seemingly insurmountable problems too much of the time. I worry and I fret over the implications of racism, the experience of the working poor, the imminence of war. I do believe that each and all of these and so many more require large scale solutions and yes, sometimes, they are called for in short order --- not in the amount of time it would take to lay bricks one at a time in the wilderness. And yet. Seldom have I known a big solution which has come to be without the back breaking, soul stretching work of doing it one step at a time. The sort that shapes values and deepens relationships. The kind that makes it safe to grow and make mistakes and back up and start over and grow some more. And that always takes time. The problem is, it seems to me, that too often we want the instant solution. The one, perhaps, that already aligns with my own beloved preconceived notions or positions. The one that does not necessitate me understanding deeply the humanity of my neighbor with whom I might just be at odds. All too often I am simply not willing to give it time, which if you think about it, is foolish and short sighted, for one way or another, time will be demanded.

Some of you will know, of course, that even as I write today I am recovering from minor surgery. I have heard stories of those who have undergone similar procedures and were up and about their business within a day or two. This has not been the case with me. Perhaps this is because, as one observed, I went into this tired. Or maybe I am learning --- or being forced to learn again --- to take my time. For healing comes, yes, but it comes on its own schedule. I can't force it. All I can do is help make the conditions right so that it will come.

And so the bricks I am laying one by one in these days have included getting proper rest. And sitting still to read as I have not in some time. And moving as I am able. And eating as I should. And looking out the window. And whispering prayers of thanksgiving and hope. One brick at a time. Probably I'll be back at work in a day or two. I am hoping this forced slow down will remind me to move a little slower this Advent. Perhaps now I will pay attention to where the bricks are laid, end to end. In myself. Between each and all of us. And as a way into the world. Oh, it seems to me most of the time we have no choice but to do it this way, you and I. For if we don't take the time to do it now? We certainly will be forced to do it later as we seek to mend or to heal.

And so today I wonder. If we would only get started laying bricks among us and between us? Maybe then the road will be built. You know the road of which I speak: that highway which leads to peace. The one which John points us to today. The one the Messiah travels on.

Indeed, John tells us today that this way will be made smooth by our repentance, yours and mine. The path is cleared by our being reconciled to God and to one another. And that takes time. Perhaps one brick at a time. We do it now with intentional-ity and with hope. Or we will surely do it later, seeking to mend and to heal and find ways to begin all over again, only weakened now by our choosing to not do so before. Perhaps not unlike me in these days following surgery. Indeed, I suppose it is our choice.

  • I have offered the image of 'preparing the way of the Lord' one brick at a time. Does that work? Why or why not?
  • Reconciliation takes time, yes? Where are you called to 'take the time' to pay attention to where such reconciliation is needed in your life, in your world? Where are you called to lay your bricks, end to end, to get there?
  • My minor surgery in this season has forced me to slow down. What has done this for you? When have you been forced to 'take your time' in a way that has shaped how you have lived next?
  • Can you think of times when you have put off 'laying the bricks' among us and between us and into the world? How has your not 'taking time' to do so then demanded even more time later? What difference might it make to 'prepare the way' today?

1 comment:

  1. I confess my frustration with those who don't see the 'long march' that life involves - who look at 'cheap mission' - a take on cheap grace, I suppose - as all it should take to deal with hunger -- the Thanksgiving turkeys given to those who feed the homeless, the Christmas toys (only slightly used) given to the Marines, serving the meals at a homeless mission one day a year. We put a great deal of thought and effort into designing our retirements, selecting our electronics and cars, or planning our education and our careers. But we don't see the same need for seriousness in dealing with racism, violence, or economic injustice. We hold certain opinions and even defend them - and think we've made a difference. Brick by brick we do build our lives - and only so do we address our real concerns.

    John calls us to a new mind - not a quick flick of the wrist.