God moves more than mountains Luke 3:1-6
Have you noticed the huge mining equipment that is currently being
transported along the highway to the mine? Trucks, excavators, bulldozers so big, it seems they are able to move a mountain in just a few days. The industrial age, with the invention of the engine, seems to have fulfilled what the ancient Greek philosopher, Protagoras, reportedly once said ‘man is the measure of all things.’ We never get tired of being impressed by how big we can make a machine in order to move a mountain, well I certainly don’t!
Protagoras’ ‘Man has become the measure of all things’ has somehow crept into our psyche and has given us a sense of security about life; a ‘you can do it’ mentality that drives our very being. It gives us the urge to tackle every mountain in our lives as if it were a mole hill. It frees us to be our own boss and creator, judge and jury. It gives us the right to do as we please without considering the true cost to creation, to our well being and even to the cost of our spiritual well being before God.
When we are the measure of all things, and we measure life, value, ethics, morality and even sin according to human standards, we lead ourselves down a very dangerous path; a path that looks clear of mountains and valleys, but is in fact a path that is deceptively crooked and rough.
John the Baptist came as a voice calling out in the desert. He was a prophet of God, Jesus’ own cousin. He preached repentance and forgiveness of sins through baptism, to the people of Israel; God’s chosen people; a people through whom he had announced that a saviour would be born. The prophet Isaiah foretold centuries earlier ‘ a Root of Jesse will stand as a banner for the peoples; the nations will rally to him, and his place of rest will be glorious’. John preached his message in the wilderness, in a deep depression through which the Jordan flows to the Dead Sea. This area was hot and dry, uninhabitable and lay between 600 feet below sea level at one end and 1,300 below at the other. It was flat and straight ground.
All Mountains and valleys ended at the depression. All curved roads straightened up and every bumpy way smoothed out as they entered the vast plains of the Dead Sea region. Out on a salt pan there is nowhere to hide. It is as if God had chosen this sparse empty place where John the Baptist preached repentance, to show how smooth and empty of sin our lives need to be before him;
to show us that nothing in our life is hidden, all is revealed and will be revealed on the day of judgment, as the prophet Malachi foretold ‘But who can endure the day of his coming? Who can stand when he appears? For he will be like a refiner’s fire or a launderer’s soap.’ The desert reflected the words of John ‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him. Every valley shall be filled in, every mountain and hill made low. The crooked roads shall become straight, the rough ways smooth.’
The mountains and valleys, the crooked roads and rough way, that are to be leveled like the Dead Sea, are not mountains that can be flattened with big machines and human effort. They are metaphors for sin. And you will notice there are two sorts of sins, the clearly visible sins, the mountains and valleys, and the hidden sins, the crooked road and rough way. Mountain and valley sins are called just that because they can be seen by everyone. They stand out large and are our outward sins of moral failure; sins that are obvious to everyone…abusive language, domestic violence, stealing, adultery and flirting, greed, addictions and so on.
With care and hard work, it is possible to outwardly observe and keep ourselves from committing mountain sins. With our ‘you can do it’ attitude, we can, like a huge excavator, dig away at a particular visible sin and level it out. We can fill in valleys by heaping in all the good intentions and acts we can. To everyone else around us, it looks as if we have beaten our sin and live as good Christian and God fearing disciple.
But then John’s call to repentance from sin reminds us there is the crooked road and rough paths that are to be straightened and smoothed out. These are the sins no one knows about or can easily see. The highway from Dubbo to Nyngan is a good example of hidden sin. On a map and even looking at it, the road looks straight and smooth, but drive it and carelessly overtake and you soon discover the hidden dangers of the slight curves and dips in the road that hide on coming cars. We all may look good, setting ourselves up as the measure of all things, but we all have hidden sins that no one can see; the crooked road and rough way sins. Jesus speaks of these hidden sins at his Sermon on the Mount, ‘You have heard that it was said, ‘Do not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.’
It is here, in our heart, where sin dwells and it is where we cannot get to it, no matter how big a machine we use! The hidden sin can only be seen by God and cannot be removed by our effort. Our thoughts and desires are sinful by nature. We are born into sin and all outward sin has its origin from within. John’s call for repentance reminds us that man is not the measure of all things, God is. And his word declares ‘no one is righteous not even one.’ And so we join with Saint Paul, ‘What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?
Praise be to God, John’s call for repentance doesn’t end laying us bare before God, he adds ‘for the forgiveness of sins.’ Isaiah foretold of the forgiveness John proclaimed in his baptism when he said ‘all humanity will see God’s salvation’. It is God himself who will straighten paths and smooth over rough ways. Jesus, God’s own Son entered this world to level the mountains and valleys, crooked roads and rough ways of our sinful self, as St John said ‘The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. And making a connection with Isaiah’s prophecy ‘all will see God’s salvation’, he goes on to say ‘We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.’
On the cross Jesus flattened the devil, destroyed his power by taking upon himself the wrath of his Father for our sins, as expressed in Jesus desperate words ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me.’ The mountains and valleys, roads and ways were all made flat when Jesus said ‘it is finished.’ And when he rose from the grave on the third day the final word of God was spoken; a final word of good news, as St Paul announced ‘Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.’
The fulfillment of our salvation in Christ is for all people, for all time, but just knowing this gives us very little comfort when plagued by continual hidden sins and the sufferings that we constantly endure. So God comes to us objectively, from outside of us, and gives us salvation personally through the sacraments of baptism, Holy Communion and through the words of forgiveness we hear from our pastor on repenting. Our certainty of forgiveness is not found in our feelings, but in God himself who comes to us with a word of comfort and a promise never to revisit our sins again.
Let me tell you a story of sin, guilt, shame, remorse and the love of a Father that levelled a mountain through forgiveness. This is your story. You and your Heavenly Father.
In Decision magazine, Mark Strand tells of an experience that occurred following his first year at college. His dad and mum had left on holidays, and Mark wrecked their ute, crumpling the passenger-side door. Returning home, he parked the ute. When his dad returned home and saw the damage, Mark acted surprised and denied any knowledge of the accident. Mr Strand then asked the hired man about it, and to Mark’s delight, the man admitted he was responsible. He had heard a loud noise while passing the ute with the spray rig, and now he assumed he had caused the damage. But the weeks that followed were torturous as Mark struggled with his guilty conscience. He repeatedly considered telling the truth, but was afraid. Finally one day he impulsively blurted it out.
‘Dad, there’s something I need to tell you.’
‘You know the ute door? I was the one who did it.’
Dad looked at me. I looked back at him. For the first time in weeks I was able to look at him in the eyes as the topic was broached. To my utter disbelief, Dad calmly replied, “I know.”
Silent seconds, which seemed like hours, passed. Then dad said, “Let’s go eat.” He put his arm around my shoulder, and we walked to the house, not saying another word about it. Not then, not ever.’
(Mark Stran, ‘I couldn’t forget that door,’ Decision, December 1996, 19.)