A short reflection for Advent 3:
My nephew Philip lives and works in Luanda, the capital of Angola. Getting about is difficult to say the least. In the city itself, there are roads, but not enough roads for the volume of traffic, so it takes ages to get anywhere. If he takes the 5.15 company bus, he gets to work by 6.00am. If he waited for the 5.30 bus, he wouldn’t get to work till 7.00am – that’s 1½ hours, and if he slept in and got the 7.00am bus, he wouldn’t get to work till 10.00am. Three hours.
The company arranges transport by uniformed drivers. If he drove himself, he would likely be stopped regularly for inspection of documents, because the locals know that the white workers would rather pay a bit here and there to speed things up. That’s not so much a hazard as a nuisance.
For the Angolans travelling in their blue and white public transport, life can be more difficult, because the people carriers are not kept in good nick and are often overloaded, so there are accidents, and Phil sees a lot of smashed up vehicles. Meanwhile the trucks are veering across the roads while the drivers drink their beer. By the time they get out of town, the roads are in a worse state. Heavy rains often wash away the road surface. You need a 4×4 to travel that way.
Walking is not a good idea. The white workers are fair game, because they are rich compared to the locals. Muggings happen regularly. If you resist, you are likely to be killed, simple as that. It is much safer to hand over your money and your I-phone and put it down to experience.
The Old Testament reading we heard just now comes from the book of Isaiah, but is probably an added extra, written by another prophet. When he was imagining the return of God’s people to Zion over hundreds of miles of desert roads, he didn’t have quite those hazards in mind, but travelling was just as dangerous in the middle east 2,500 years ago as it is in parts of Africa today. The people of Israel and Judah had been exiled, and Isaiah is thinking about the time when God would bring them home. The journey was not going to be dangerous and terrifying, as people might expect, but would be smooth and straightforward. The road would be straight and flat so that no one could get lost. There would be springs of water in the desert which would mean that food and flowers would grow along the way. There would be no dangerous animals, nor muggers, nor sub-standard vehicles or drunk truck-drivers or traffic police looking for a bribe.
It is a wonderful poem about coming home, about returning with joy and confidence, in safety and without fear.
Advent is a time for returning home to God. We live in exile when we drift away from God, when we put ourselves first, when we discount the needs of others, when we steadfastly refuse to forgive. Yeah, that’s what humans do. We are stubborn and self-centred, and we don’t care enough. It’s the reason God chose to come and live among us as a little child in iron age Judah.
God wants us to come home. He has made the road safe and easy. You just have to take the walk along God’s highway, the Holy Way. Are you coming?
Durham Lumiere, 2011