1The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad, the desert shall rejoice and blossom; like the crocus 2it shall blossom abundantly, and rejoice with joy and singing. The glory of Lebanon shall be given to it, the majesty of Carmel and Sharon. They shall see the glory of the Lord, the majesty of our God. 3Strengthen the weak hands, and make firm the feeble knees. 4Say to those who are of a fearful heart: ‘Be strong, do not fear! Here is your God. He will come with vengeance, with terrible recompense. He will come and save you.’ 5Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; 6then the lame shall leap like a deer, and the tongue of the dumb sing for joy. For waters shall break forth in the wilderness, and streams in the desert; 7the burning sand shall become a pool, and the thirsty ground springs of water; the haunt of jackals shall become a swamp, the grass shall become reeds and rushes. 8A highway shall be there, and it shall be called the Holy Way; the unclean shall not travel on it, but it shall be for God’s people; no traveller, not even fools, shall go astray. 9No lion shall be there, nor shall any ravenous beast come up on it; they shall not be found there, but the redeemed shall walk there. 10And the ransomed of the Lord shall return, and come to Zion with singing; everlasting joy shall be upon their heads; they shall obtain joy and gladness, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.
Text © The New Revised Standard Version (English version), alt, used with permission.
Just as hope is the recurrent theme of readings leading up to Christmas, Isaiah gives us a sense of hope for an exiled community. When we take a simple reading from scripture, and read it in isolation in our churches, we miss the connection, or disconnection in this case, with the surrounding text. This message of hope comes amid others of despair. Why? I think it’s important that even in our darkest hours we can hear the hope of a future which will restore us to a good relationship with God. Give thanks to God in all circumstances. If you break a leg, give thanks to God; if someone close to you dies, give thanks to God; if you’ve just won a major lottery, give thanks to God; if you have a child with disabilities, give thanks to God; if you lose your job, give thanks to God. Why? Because God doesn’t give us a challenge we cannot meet when we put our minds to it and trust Him to help us, and what you will receive can be a far greater reward than you might expect – just don’t expect to see the reward in a time-frame set by you. In this instant-gratification era that’s hard, I know, but it’s what God calls us to do.
Some commentators believe this passage appears too early in Isaiah for it to be in its original position. This is a passage which appears before people would expect to hear it. Absolutely fantastic! Of course it’s earlier than people would expect. That’s precisely what God has intended. Isaiah is showing us that we need to speak up against what is wrong in this world, and speak with hope for a future where we can live peacefully with others. This passage tells us that we should not wait for ’the right time’ because the right time might never come.
The message in this passage is not directed at anyone in particular, and there is no time reference which would allow us to stick it at some point in history and forget the implications of the message. No, the message applies to everyone, everywhere, in every age, including Australians in 2019! We should help the weak, those who are downhearted and fearful of the consequences of their actions because God will deal with the oppressors. We don’t have to be concerned about them. Let go and let God!
Whenever I read the next few verses I can’t help but start to sing from Handel’s Messiah. Remember the quote from last week’s reflection: ‘there are none so blind as those who will not see’? Does it matter, in terms of the message from Isaiah, if those who are literally blind do not see, when the message which Christ brought as well was that we need to be willing to open our eyes to what is happening around us, and to act. The lame can leap, the dumb can ‘sing’ and the deaf can hear when God’s message is shown in our lives. We will find what we haven’t been able to see, even though it has always been there, new life will spring forth because we are charged by the power of God – as Christians we would say by the Holy Spirit – and we will live protected from the evil ways of oppressors.
Trust God unconditionally. Do not wait for the right time to pass on messages of hope and an opportunity to redirect our ways so that we listen to God, rather than human ways of thinking, which are all-too-often self-centred, power greedy, worshipping money, and trying to stop people spreading the Good News.
Advent is a time of preparation for the coming of Christ, so let’s prepare the way for the Lord, let’s make a straight path through the wilderness around us for the Son of God, and let’s challenge ourselves with the question “What would Christ do in my circumstances?”