Dear Friends in Christ,

If you have had anything like my experience driving around the diocese this fall, you may have wondered whether the "City of Bridges" shouldn't be re-named the "City of Detours." It isn't just the Squirrel Hill Tunnel and I-376; I seem to run into alternate routes everywhere. Very early on Sunday morning, as I was waiting in a long line of cars re-routed at exit 67, the words of the Prophet Isaiah came to mind with a slight revision: "Prepare in the wilderness a highway for our God: The crooked shall be made straight, the rough places plain- but the Parkway westbound shall remain closed." (40:3-4, sort of). 

I am grateful that God's highway is an entirely different matter. In fact, Isaiah implicitly contrasts with the famed "Royal Road" of King Darius This Persian emperor's road was a marvel of engineering – royal couriers could ride over 1600 miles in a week, and the highway was so well constructed that parts of it were still in use by the Romans centuries later. It was very much the road of an earthly king – a military road intended to improve commerce and keep subject peoples in line. The road may have been a source of glory and power for Darius and his successors, but for the poor and the oppressed, it was more likely an instrument of fear and humiliation.

The King's road Isaiah has in mind, however, is "a Highway for our God" who will use it to bring salvation, not brutal conquest. And this salvation, this power, will not set one people over another; rather "the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together." Over the next twenty-six chapters the prophet develops and announces a vision of universal reckoning, of judgment and mercy for all the nations, through which a flood of humanity will come to the recognition of their true purpose in life, will learn to glorify God and will become bearers of his grace and holiness.

It never ceases to amaze me that God should reveal and enact this Royal Road through some very dark detours and shabby pathways in this world. The holy family stumbles toward Bethlehem to be registered under the power of another king; the child is born in a barn, then bundled up and run off to Egypt for fear of Herod, His nervous parents looking over their shoulders the whole way. This road, announced by John the Baptist in the wilderness, runs through Galilee, past a shameful corner of Samaria, through Jericho to Jerusalem. It culminates in the hard path to Calvary, and is completed on the road that leads from the beach in John 21, where Jesus meets his friends after the Resurrection and says to them, "Follow me." 

Let us all look for this road in this Advent season, or better yet, assume we are on it, and invite others to join us. Millions would love to find it and do not even know it exists. We can begin by praying for, and offering what help we can, to the refugees from Syria and the Middle East whose numbers are now well over a million, showing the character of our loving and merciful King even in so small a thing as supporting our Mayor's efforts to extend the hand of our generous city and region. And let us also remember those in our own neighborhoods and families, who may be wandering in a maze of their own making, or who struggle with grief or addiction or illness or poverty, people who have assumed a certain level of hopelessness is just a part of life. The Royal Road is meant for them, but how will they find it unless we take the trouble to stop, and offer our hand, and gently point the way? 

This comes with my heartfelt blessings and prayers that, as we together walk the Royal Road this Advent, we all may be more deeply prepared in heart and mind to adore and serve our Lord in this life, so that in the last day, we may, without shame or fear, rejoice to behold His appearing.

Faithfully your bishop,
(The Rt. Rev.) Dorsey W.M. McConnell, D.D.

December 9, 2015

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