I wonder how many roads, literally, you have been on in your life – how many have I been on in my life? If we’re Kansans, I’m guessing nearly all of us have been on I-70 too many times to remember. Around here I’ll bet 435, k-10 and 7, 35 north and south, 29 to the airport and/or beyond. But that’s simply the big ones – now think about all the two laner(s) paved, all the country backroads both gravel and dirt, the highways that have numbers or letters but very few people really know what they are anymore – you simply know the road and where it takes you.
If you’ve ever lived in a small community, I’ll bet you’ve both given and received directions that talk about turning at the tree that’s no longer there but was for a long time. Out home we talk about the corner by the “Green” place, because the family who once owned it a generation or more ago had that last name. When I go out to our farm, I note Ernest and Louise Gramzow’s place – no longer there; and Ivan and Gladys’s – our closest neighbors who made their own soap – no longer there. I haven’t lived out there continuously since I graduated from high school, but I can drive those roads in my sleep and name the farmsteads as if it were yesterday.
So many, many roads we travel over the course of our lifetimes. So many people and places and experiences and defining events that we may not even realize at the time are that significant, but with the perspective of years, name those moments as those which changed some things, or maybe even everything.
My sermon series for traditional worship this Advent is, in fact, “This Changes Everything.” Well duh, right? The birth of Jesus of course changes everything. And leading up to it, there are also those roads that the very human people involved traveled that changed their lives as well. Mary makes her way to see and stay with her cousin Elizabeth after being visited by an angel who tells her that “nothing is impossible with God.” Joseph and Mary make their way to Bethlehem, along with the rest of the world traveling to their places of origin, for a counting and an accounting, where Mary will give birth in a stable and place the child in a manger. The shepherds will find their way to the place and find it just as the angels had said, and will leave to tell the story in their own ways and times. The Magi make their way on roads crossing borders and languages and political systems to bring gifts to a child born outside their own experience of astrological signs and wonders. John makes his way out into the desert before Jesus begins his ministry to fulfill his purpose from birth, to announce to any in the world who would listen, that the long-awaited Messiah had arrived.
So many roads, so many experiences, sometimes a totally unexpected event, and together it all changes everything. For people of faith, the birth of Jesus, God coming to earth in human form, changes everything. I wonder sometimes if we forget that in the midst of all that we have been through most particularly in the past two years. We light candles, as our age-old tradition, of hope, peace, joy, and love – and perhaps wonder if the roads we’re wandering on in these days and times really lead toward those revelations of light and life. Perhaps those living under Roman oppression in the days of Jesus’ birth also get the benefit of the doubt for not suddenly jumping up and down for joy or even pausing in any recognition at the birth of the Messiah – nothing looked much different for very many in that moment.
What we know now, is that it changed everything. Is it possible that with a longer perspective from here, we might also know more clearly how our faith in these complex times is changing more in the world than we can right now see? I have heard myself say to myself and to others in these days of transition at Grace – don’t forget God is smack-dab in the middle of this process for all of us and God continues to want and work for good things for all God’s people, most especially in the midst of all that feels unsteady and unknown. I’m hanging onto that rock-solid belief with all my might in these days of preparation for the birth of new life and light; in these days of working for healthy endings for the sake of hope-filled and vision-promising new beginnings.
In this sacred time of preparation and expectation, I hope we take some time to look back as well as forward in our lives. To recognize those moments, both expected and maybe unexpected that changed the trajectory of our journeys, that elicited more courage than we thought we had, that invited a sense of peace in the promise of God where we couldn’t quite yet see, and the thanksgiving, even in the struggle, for how God has brought us this far on the way.
There are so many roads we have traveled that have offered new learning and thanksgiving for those we met along the way. AND there are so many roads ahead left to travel that will lead us to beauty and life we have yet to even imagine. And at the heart of it all, Angel Gabriel’s words to Mary ring through every generation to our own, “For nothing will be impossible with God.” Luke 1:37, NRSV.