Video of Evening Prayer is here. The sermon begins around the 22:50 mark.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Advent is full of ways and paths and roads. The way before Jesus on the donkey is strewn with cloaks and branches and the praise of a coming King, with peace and glory and salvation. The way before Jesus’ public appearance is prepared and straightened and leveled by John’s preaching of repentance. John is the voice crying in the wilderness: Prepare the way for Yahweh! Make His paths straight! The valleys are going to be filled in and the mountains are going to be leveled off. The rough places are going to become level. And everyone is going to see the salvation of God. God’s angel travels to Mary to tell her that God has drawn near to her, and then Mary travels to Elizabeth. It is the way by which God comes to give good things to the hungry, and the way by which He sends away the rich.
Psalm 25 twice talks about the paths of Yahweh and four times of the way of Yahweh. God leads His people along the way, and He instructs them in His way. He teaches His people His paths, which are steadfast love and faithfulness. Our roads have changed a lot since the time of Jesus two thousand years ago, and even more since the time of David a thousand years before Jesus. But isn’t it interesting how roads and ways and paths still work as a metaphor for life. We are either walking on one kind of way, or on another. Some people talk about many ways or paths to God. Jesus, trying to make it easy for us, says that He is the way to the Father. He says there is a broad and easy way that leads to death, as well as a narrow and difficult way that leads to life. In the Book of Acts, “the Way” is in fact the name for the Christian Church.
But the paths are many and the ways keep multiplying, and there are no obvious signs at the crossroads of this world. Or maybe it is more like the tunnels in a cave, with no sun or city lights to guide us home. We just wander and grope around and hope we don’t die in the darkness. There are traps laid on these ways, and there are enemies around every turn. Isaiah knew it: “The highways lie waste; the traveler ceases. Covenants are broken; cities are despised; there is no regard for man. The land mourns and languishes” (Isaiah 33:8-9).
It is not that God has hidden His ways, or left us without any maps. There is wandering because of doubt and ignorance, and then there is willful wandering from the way, thinking that we can find the way ourselves. We ignore the words of God, taking the Book of His ways for granted, and then we claim we can’t find our way. We do not study the pathways of our God; we don’t meditate on them; we do not trace them out, and then we wonder what to do when our roads become rocky. Jesus has drawn the lines on the road in bright red; He has walked this way already and His footsteps remain apparent. But we would often rather pretend we don’t know the way, rather than walking the narrow and difficult road.
O God! Have mercy on us sinners! Make us know Your ways! Teach us Your paths! Lead us in Your truth and teach us, for You are the God of our salvation. You are good and upright; instruct sinners in the way. Humble us and lead us in what is right, and teach us Your way. For the sake of the Name You have put on us, pardon our great guilt. Turn toward us and be gracious to us, for we are lonely and afflicted. The troubles of our hearts are enlarged, often especially at this time of the year; bring us out of our distresses. Consider our afflictions and our troubles, and forgive all our sins.
God—He has become our God—has seen our affliction and trouble. He knows. He sees that we cannot get ourselves free, that our sin entangles us until we turn away in unbelief and despair. He has entered this world and walked the way of our sin and death. “O Yahweh…you search out my path and my lying down and are acquainted with all my ways” (Psalm 139:3). So then, after nine months, “stepped forth the Lord of all from His pure and kingly hall; God of God, yet fully man, His heroic course began. God the Father was His source, back to God He ran His course. Into hell His road went down, back then to His throne and crown” (LSB 332:4-5).
He cleared the way and opened it up, precisely for you. He opened the way so that your death is not a dead-end, but only the gate of resurrection. He broke open the gates of hell and not only shows us the way to heaven and back to God, but actually brings us along with Him, joined to His death and resurrection in baptism. That washing with water and the Word put you on a far different road, and as dark as the way can get, He never closes the road to you. His Word was and is and remains the lamp for your feet and the light to your path (Psalm 119:105). “From the manger newborn light shines in glory through the night. Darkness there no more resides; in this light faith now abides” (LSB 332:7).
“In the latter days…the mountain of the house of Yahweh shall be established as the highest of the mountains…and all the nations shall flow to it, and many peoples shall come, and say: ‘Come, let us go up to the mountain of Yahweh, to the house of the God of Jacob, that He may teach us His ways and that we may walk in His paths… O house of Jacob, come, let us walk in the light of Yahweh” (Isaiah 2:2-3, 5). As we walk through this life in both space and time, we walk always in the water of baptism, which is the way of Christ’s death and resurrection, and ours.
“In all your ways, know Him, and He will make straight your paths” (Proverbs 3:6). This is the faith that trusts in your dear heavenly Father through His Son, Jesus. Wherever your individual paths and ways go, know and acknowledge Him, in whom you walk, and He will straighten your paths all the way to the pure, glass-gold streets of that new and eternal city. That city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb. By its light will the nations walk (Revelation 21:21, 23-24). The river of life flows down the middle of that street, feeding the tree of life and healing, and it flows from there to here, nourishing us as we walk the way of the Lord.
To You, O Yahweh, I lift up my soul. O my God, in You I trust. Let me not be put to shame. “O come, Thou Wisdom from on high, who ord’rest all things mightily; to us the path of knowledge show, and teach us in her ways to go” (LSB 357:2). Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel!
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7, ESV). Amen.
— Pr. Timothy Winterstein, 12/1/21