Even if they are fools, they shall not go astray. (Isaiah 35:8b)
I saw Santa last night. And take it from me, Santa could use a driving tip or two. At least this particular Santa needs a drivers’ ed. refresher course.
He was behind the wheel of an older, large sedan. Something like a Crown Victoria. Of course I didn’t realize that it was Santa at first. I approached him from behind on a local four-lane road. He was lumbering along at about 15 miles per hour below the speed limit. The car wove erratically back and forth over the line dividing the lanes on our side of the street.
As I slipped past him we all recognized the long, flowing white hair, a real beard, and a fire engine red shirt. We also saw Santa steering with his elbows while texting. My wife Joy quipped, “Well, it is an especially busy time of year for him.”
With considerably less humor I thought, “Watch where you’re going.” It was only then that I realized that I had gotten an Advent message. Watch where you’re going! Only, the Advent meaning of the phrase has a Gospel twist.
My response to Santa was straightforward. Keep your eyes on the road not your phone! Be careful! Stay in your lane! Take control of that vehicle!
Most drivers assume that we arrive safely at our destinations because of our driving competence. Sometimes we need a measure of luck, to be sure. We have all been narrowly missed by careless drivers or had lapses of our own attention. But we put our faith largely in our own driving ability.
In Advent, our lectionaries (Sunday and Daily Eucharist in particular) invite us to listen to the prophet Isaiah. There we find a very different message about watching the road ahead.
God does not bid us to remove all the obstacles lying between him and us in an act of spiritual bulldozing. Neither does watch more or less patiently to see whether our driving skills will bring us to his nearer presence.
On the contrary, he lowers the mountains and spans the chasms that separate us from him. He builds a road to us from him, a road so straight and so sure that even distracted, clumsy drivers like us can count on arriving at our destination.
That is largely because we are not, in fact, doing the driving. God is coming to us. To be near to us. And his nearer presence is a destination beyond even our most expert driving skill:
Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped;
then shall the lame man leap like a deer,
and the tongue of the mute sing for joy.
For waters break forth in the wilderness,
and streams in the desert;
the burning sand shall become a pool,
and the thirsty ground springs of water;
in the haunt of jackals, where they lie down,
the grass shall become reeds and rushes. (Isaiah 35:5-7)
Advent is the time to watch where we are going because our destination is in fact coming toward us at the speed of love.