Sideling Mountain

Dec 22, 2021

Fr. Michael Schleupner offers another blog today with a powerful visual analogy about a familiar Advent reading from Scripture. Does this image resonate with you, inspiring you with hope, humility, truthfulness and patience?

Sideling MountainFr. Michael homily

A voice cries: In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain. And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken. ~Is. 40: 3-5

I’m sure that many of us have been to Garrett County in Western Maryland. Garrett County has scenic mountains, national forests, and the beautiful Deep Creek Lake. To travel there, you take I-70 west to Hancock, Maryland. Then, you take route 68 west. And here is where you see something amazing.

The first mountain that you meet is called Sideling Mountain. Up until about thirty years ago, you had to follow a winding and dangerous road over the southern side of Sideling Mountain and around its highest point. Then there was a major highway project. They literally blasted off the top and created a passage right through the heart of Sideling Mountain. The result is that the center part of the mountain is now much lower and the new road is much straighter. It is a safer and faster way to drive west toward Garrett County.

Gospel Images

What the engineers did to Sideling Mountain helps us to appreciate the images in today’s readings. John the Baptist is preparing for the coming of Christ and is preaching repentance. He expresses this with images that he takes from the Prophet Isaiah and the Prophet Baruch in today’s first reading.

John says: “Every valley shall be filled in and every mountain shall be made low. The winding ways shall be made straight and the rough ways smooth.” I have always liked these images. They express what this Season of Advent calls us to do to allow the fuller coming of Christ into our lives.

Valleys and Mountains

So, “Every valley shall be filled in.” Sometimes there are points in our lives where we feel empty, dry, alone, maybe without any purpose. In these valleys, Advent lifts up hope – the virtue of hope. This hope is not just optimism that everything will turn out as we want it. Rather, it is a vision for living that Jesus brings and that gives fullness and purpose to our lives.

So, “Every valley shall be filled in,” and then, “Every mountain shall be made low.” Sometimes we can slip into thinking that we are beyond or better than others because of our job, our religion, our race, our education, or our nationality. When we are on these mountains of pride, Advent reminds us of what we are about to celebrate at Christmas.

God became one of us and one with us in the birth of Christ. This moves us to the humble awareness that we are to see ourselves as one of and one with all human beings.

Winding and Rough Ways

Then, “The winding ways shall be made straight.” Sometimes we can be tempted to be untruthful about something maybe to avoid being thought less of or to make ourselves look better. When we get into these winding ways, the Advent prophet John the Baptist is a good example for us. He speaks in a direct and straightforward way. In doing that, he moves us to be truthful about ourselves, and to do that with ourselves and with others as the way to real wholeness and holiness.

And finally, “The rough ways are to be made smooth.” Sometimes we may explode with anger at something a family member does or get into road rage when someone cuts us off in traffic. When we find ourselves roughing up others up like this, let’s remember the patience of Jesus. He was always patient with the imperfections of people and only roughed up some who themselves were roughing up others.


So, these images today really speak to me:
– filling up our valleys of emptiness with hope;
– levelling our mountains of pride with humility;
– straightening the winding way of deception with truthfulness;
– and smoothing the roughness of anger with patience.

This is an Advent plan – a way to allow Jesus the Christ to come more fully into our lives. And, if we do this, the result will be the last line of today’s gospel passage. “All humanity will see the salvation of God.”

~Fr. Michael Schleupner