Pastor Bradley E. Schmeling picture
December 5, 2021

2nd Sunday of Advent, Pastor Bradley E. Schmeling

Luke 3:1-6 + Advent 2 + December 5, 2021 + Gloria Dei Lutheran Church + Pastor Bradley E. Schmeling

This was infrastructure week.

Here at Gloria Dei, most of the decorative material that hides the building support has been removed.  There’s a hole in the chancel floor where the choir used to sit.  You can see down into the kitchen below.  They’re preparing the floor for new support beams to pour the new floor that will support the organ and choir.

Here in Minnesota, President Biden was here to tout his new infrastructure plan. He said that there are 660 bridges and almost 5000 miles of new road that will be repaired or rebuilt.  There’s also money for broadband internet coverage, for electric car charging stations.  There’s money for “reconnecting communities pilot program” that could be used to reconnect the Rondo neighborhood after being devastated by a much earlier infrastructure plan to build I-94.

And the gospel text is about infrastructure.  Prepare the royal highway.  John appears in the wilderness with resurrected message from Isaiah:

‘Prepare the way of the Lord,
make the paths direct.
5Every valley shall be filled,
and every mountain and hill shall be made low,
and the crooked shall go forward,
and the rough ways made smooth;
6and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.’ ”

Maybe Advent is the infrastructure system.  What’s holding up the life we live?

Luke begins by outlining the kind of infrastructure that has so far been holding up the world he lived in.  He lists the rulers, the governors, the religious leaders who have so far been the ones building roads. We tend to think of roads as the infrastructure that facilitates the free exchange of goods or provides us a way to get to the people we love or visit national parks.  That wasn’t the case in the first century.  There was only one organization that built roads:  the army. The point of a road was to get your might from one place to another.  It was about control and the extraction of wealth.  Tiberius, Pontius Pilate, Philip, Lysanias even the high priests in Jerusalem Annas and Caiaphas were part of building Rome’s imperial infrastructure, not just the roads but all the systems, including the mythology, that propped up the empire. They called it the Pax Romana, which is not what it felt like to Luke’s community.

Once he establishes that this story is being told in a very real world, he starts telling another story.  This one on the outskirts of town, near the Jordan River.  The announcement of another infrastructure project that starts with an ax being laid to the root.  Next week, we’ll hear the fiery sermon from John, who is ready to tear out the old flooring, the old roads, the old bridges, the load-bearing institutions of political and economic systems.

John is on the deconstruction team.  He’s doing the work to prepare for Jesus, who will arrive as the architect of a new way of being.  This one who is coming will begin to construct an alternative reality right under the nose of Pilate, who will eventually from his Praetorium think he has the power over life and death. Not.  We will see this coming one touch the untouchables; heal the outsider; sit down at tables with sex workers; feed the hungry; gather the wounded; bless the children; empower women; and will tell everyone who will listen:  God’s reign is already within you.

For those who can see that, who can turn toward it, (we might call them the baptized) they join the deconstruction team. At the Jordan, it’s not a baptismal garment you receive, it’s a hard hat.

One of the great Advent questions for all of us is to ask of our own contexts:  What are the things that need to get broken down so that equity or healing or love or justice can flow in all the right ways?  What are the assumptions that get made just outside of our awareness that keep things as they are?  Bring them forward.  Expose them. And knocks them down.  What is getting in the way?

I read recently that in the restaurants outside the conference center at the COP26 climate summit in Scotland printed carbon estimates on their menu along with the price.  They called them “foodprints.”  It measured how much CO2 is emitted in the production, transportation, and preparation of your lunch.  A serving of veggie pasta registered as 0.3, below the recommended limit of 0.5.  A burger:  3.9.[1]  That would have stopped me in my tracks.

Who knew lunch could be a Jordan River moment?  A place for new highways opened.  Yet, this is exactly how sneaky Advent can be. Right under the nose of today’s list of rulers and leaders, on the sidelines, in the breaks, next to the patterns of production and political grid lock, pathways open for another reality where kindness and gentleness take root; an alternative world that is open to the stranger, considers the earth as beloved friend, values compassion as social and economic necessity, and takes a wild delight in being a little bit John and Jesus right under the nose of Tiberius and Pilate?

We can do it even in our own little worlds: in the hallways at schools, on the roads that we travel, amid the hills and valleys of COVID life, around the corner of block, in the rough spots, on the plains of the Midwest.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the infrastructure in our home this week.  As Darin struggles to recover from respiratory issues that COVID set into motion, all the little things we do that were largely unexamined become places of potential love and care.  A pot of coffee made and left in the thermos; a note scribbled on a counter; a few more texts than usual, a tiny bit of Christmas decorating that gets done before a nap; a prayer that seemed rote a few weeks ago now so full of emotion; a lighted Advent wreath; moments to remind each other of God’s truth that we know and then forget all the time:  it’s going to be okay.  It’s all going to be okay.

It’s in the infrastructure of our daily lives that all of us have opportunities to build something to build.  It always starts where we really are, where we learn with our loved ones how to be a little kinder, a bit more compassionate, a little quicker to listen, and more enthusiastic about caring.  I remember a therapist saying once that it is in how we leave and how we come back that we build our homes.  How we cross the threshold, the Jordan, that matters.  The little things we say and do become a kind of infrastructure that can hold the whole house.

All these things become tender moments when we touch another world; a world that is as real as the one with illness and exploitation.  A lunch choice, a perspective examined, a vote, a love note, a shout of greeting at the door. A world under the nose of Emperor Augustus and Quirinius, a world where a young couple searches for a place to stay; a world where God is born; where wholeness and beauty shift the trajectory of a day and the universe; where angels sing; a world where all flesh shall see the salvation of God.


[1] “Century Marks: Carbon on the Menu,” Telegraph, November 4, as reported in The Christian Century, December 1, 2021, Vol. 138, No. 24, pg. 8.