Matt 3: part of verse 3: “Prepare the way of the Lord/make his paths straight.”
Besides bringing a bit of Isaiah to his modern community, John the Baptist was also saying he was preparing the people (then and now) for the appearance of Jesus, the Lord, on the stage. He was like the people who go out and sweep the streets before a parade, and get things festive. It ensures people understand that Someone Important is coming and be ready to Listen up and Follow.
But — I want to suggest there’s even more. I think we don’t realize how important and powerful straight roads are. My dad was, as he put it, “an old highwayman”. He was a civil engineer that was in at the beginning of creating the Interstate road system here in the U.S. Having a road link to your city could revitalize it or kill it; having a beltway could allow people easy in and out. Having well-maintained roads enabled the movement of goods from here to there — anywhere to anywhere. Truckers are the life blood of our country. Maybe (like the ancient shepherds, ha! I just thought of that!) you wouldn’t want one at a dinner party, but without them (and trains, I know, but trains are limited to tracks and need truckers ultimately to finish the journey) our country would be in big trouble. Think of the dangerous stuff they transport too. We really should be in awe of them. We should be in awe of roads and bridges.
And the highways and roads enable us to move — you can leave the big city and go — anywhere. Or you can leave the country and find the city. Or anywhere in between. The mountains, the rivers, the desert: there are times and roads you need to be wise on. But we have straight roads, we can travel: to kin, to better jobs, to get away from kin, to go to school, for pleasure.
Growing up with an old highwayman, I learned about the plan for curves so drivers don’t fall asleep, how the roads are graded to let water safely fall off them, how the signs work. “Anywhere in the world,” my dad would say, “Even Russia, a red octagon means ‘stop’ “. (I don’t know if that is true, but I heard it a lot!)
A straight road. Instead of a winding path or a mountain too steep for all but most fit to climb or descend, instead of a tangled path of brambles and thorns. Miracles everywhere. A couple summers ago I read a book by Tracy Kidder about Dr. Paul Farmer, a doctor who has done amazing good in Haiti and one of the small details that riveted me was that it took him 5 hours to travel 30 miles because the roads were so bad. My daily round-trip commute is 30 miles and rarely takes more than an hour altogether and that’s just because of traffic. Bad roads limit aid, limit medical supplies, limit the ability to just move to a better place, to find a job. Bad roads limit who hears the Good News.
Then I read Little Princes by Conor Grennan, about a young man who went to Nepal and ended up helping some children. And the description of the mountains where these children grew up — how he had to fly in by helicopter and then a guide would help him travel on tiny footpaths that were often essentially vertical. About villages that were vertical, and got little sunlight. It was terribly hard to get food there, much less medical supplies. It was a lack of roads.
Now being my father’s daughter I also realize nothing is more controversial than a road and people plan and argue over step of it. Shouldn’t this land be kept farmland? Shouldn’t this land stay wild? What about the animals and nature? These are good discussions.
But right now just take a moment and thank God for the blessings of roads and bridges, of connections and safety and travel and supplies and truckers and seeing family even if you move away, and the blessing of being able to share stories of God and people or to help. It’s an amazing blessing.
(See I said this was a quirky Bible study….)