It is a troubling moment in the history of Israel when John the Baptist appears in Luke’s Gospel. It is the fifteenth month of the Roman emperor Tiberius, and Pontius Pilate is governor. Herod along with his family, political sycophants and bullies run Jerusalem and the countryside. They do this with the support and backing of the full might of the Roman Empire. John calls across the centuries from his anxious and troubled world. He calls to us urging preparation because something is coming, he says. Make everything ready he tells us, and let no mountains or crooked paths stand in the way. Make smooth the roads that will bear the good news.
There are all kinds of ways to make roads smooth aren’t there? You can clear them of debris, pave them, or get out the heavy equipment and begin digging through the mountain. How does the church of the twenty-first century smooth out the roads to make way for the good news of the birth of Jesus? Sometimes the good news we tell is born in the good deeds we do, and even in the physical roads we clear.
Most of the roads in Puerto Rico were wiped out in the category 5 Hurricane Maria, whose sustained winds of 155 mph and rain pounded the island dealing the worst natural disaster in the island’s history. A history that includes 120 years as part of the United States, becoming a territory in 1898, a Commonwealth in 1952 and, in 1917, its inhabitants becoming citizens of the U.S. This island off the coast of Florida has a population of almost 3.5 million people (roughly the same as Connecticut). Since Hurricane Maria, much of the island has been cleared and power restored. The Disaster Ministries of the United Church of Christ has been on the ground since just after the storm and has remained long after the big equipment and military vessels left. As of the summer of 2018 there was much left to do. While the island’s beautiful tourist spots were open and welcoming, people in the rural and remote parts of the island still needed assistance. UCC Disaster Ministries have stuck with those people by organizing volunteer teams. Teams from churches across the country have been showing up to help with repairs and through donations from congregations and individuals have been able to smooth the roads and make everything ready so that people of Puerto Rico know they are not forgotten.