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My parents are not people who venture far from Nebraska very often. So, it was a big deal when they finally came to visit Carol and I in Austin, Texas during the end of our first semester in seminary. We took them on a tour of the seminary’s beautiful campus, we drove out to a barbeque place outside of town, fed them Tex Mex, but it was at the Botanical gardens near Zilker Park that noticed something was wrong. My father did not look well and struggled to walk the entire distance of the rose garden. Short of breath, red faced and sweating profusely I asked him if he was okay. Sitting on a bench he mumbled something about his sinuses and the terrible allergies that he was having since coming to Texas.
When they left for home I had an uneasy feeling about my father’s condition. So, it was no surprise that a few weeks later my mother called frantic. Something was wrong with my father’s heart and the doctor’s were taking him into the hospital immediately for tests.
So, I jumped into our Mitsubishi Précis and began the 822 mile drive from Central Texas to Bryan Memorial Hospital in Lincoln, Nebraska. You can imagine the thoughts that went through my mind as I made that long, silent drive through the Southern Plains. I was not ready for this, what if my father died? I am not too ashamed to say that I cried as I called out to God in my fear. I yelled, cursed and commanded. Alone in desolate places, no radio, menacing clouds in the distance I continued my drive. I remember a particular loop in the highway that weaved amongst Kansas wheat fields. As spring thunderstorms threatened I saw the awesome power of nature as the field’s whipped and an amazing light show of lightening was coming closer to my puny car. Then there was a curve in the road and I knew that the storm had been skirted.
Before I knew it I was crossing the border into Nebraska and then pulling into the hospital to hear the news about my father’s tests. They were not good, 5 arteries had over 60 to 80% blockage. They would need to do emergency Quadruple bypass surgery the next day. As the doctor told my father the risks of the massive surgery he began to shake uncontrollably. I grabbed his hand and held it until we were able to leave the hospital for the evening.
That night at my parent’s small, run down apartment there was no place to go to avoid the tension. My father sat in silence all night in the chair near the couch on which I was to sleep. In silence we sat most of the night together. Some time in the night we both dozed off to sleep.
It was a long few days before I was back in my Mitsubishi Precis on the 822 mile road back to Austin, Texas. I was exhausted, but on the way back I was grateful that the doctors had been able to take veins from his arms and legs to bypass the clogged veins. I was comforted that there was someone with the expertise to fix something that not too long ago would have been a death sentence for my dad.
“Comfort my People, they have suffered twice as much as they deserve” God shouts to the heavenly hosts through the prophet in Isaiah. God is summoning all the supernatural forces to bring back the people of the covenant from the exile. When they left Jerusalem for captivity they traveled rough and rugged roads to their Babylonian exile. Now God is promising that valleys will be filled and mountains will disappear so that their return will be that much more smooth.
God will lead them like a shepherd gathers stray sheep and will bring them once again to the safety of their mother. It is this imagery that we are ushered the second week one step closer to the birth of the savior. I love this imagery this morning. It goes along with part of the American mythos, the lost highway.
Yet, I am reminded that the birth of this child will change everything. Remember we are told that Jesus will save his people from their sins. To need saving they must have had problems, shortcomings, defects and flaws. So, there must be an acknowledgement that everything is not all right, that when asked how things are going we throw aside social conventions to keep our perfect veneers and stand up straight and claim, “I need comfort!”
No matter what stony, thorny, hilly, messy, abusive, depressing, rut filled path has led you to where you are today there is a promise of God for comfort. God is willing to take us near to the divine’s bosom and straighten our path to a life in Christ. So, we will continue on this journey toward a child that incarnates the idea of God with us. We have faith that God will fulfill the promise of not sparing any of the heavenly hosts in bringing us safely to a comfortable distance from our salvation.
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