“The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad; the desert shall rejoice and blossom like the crocus; it 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. Strengthen the weak hands, and make firm the feeble knees. Say to those who have an anxious heart, ‘Be strong; fear not! Behold, your God will come with vengeance, with the recompense of God. He will come and save you.’ Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; then shall the lame man leap like a deer, and the tongue of the mute sing for joy. For waters break forth in the wilderness, and streams in the desert; the burning sand shall become a pool, and the thirsty ground springs of water; in the haunt of jackals, where they lie down, the grass shall become reeds and rushes. And a highway shall be there, and it shall be called the Way of Holiness; the unclean shall not pass over it. It shall belong to those who walk on the way; even if they are fools, they shall not go astray. No 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.
And the ransomed of the Lord shall return and come to Zion with singing; everlasting joy shall be upon their heads; they shall obtain gladness and joy, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.”
Why this scripture encourages me…
JOY is the theme for the third week in the season of Advent. Pastor Abel at Our Father Lutheran Church preached on the text from Isaiah which explains why joy is so hard for us to obtain and hold on to. Isaiah foretells two stories about a return from exile. First, the story of Israel’s return from exile in Babylon. Second, the end of mankind’s exile from God.
Israel’s return from exile in Babylon was joyous, yet it was also tinged with sadness. The invaders had left Jerusalem in ruins, including tearing down the temple. Upon returning, this was devastating to see. While the temple was rebuilt, it did not match the glory of the first temple. Remembering what had been, and was now lost forever, took away joy.
Man’s fall into sin in the garden (Genesis 3) has caused all mankind to be exiled from the presence of God. We know that things are not right in this world. Just like the returning Israelite’s, we seek a perfection that no longer exists. An analogy Pastor Abel shared is that we are now “living” at a park, not just “visiting” it. The park—the world as it is currently—is a nice place to visit…for a time. However, because we are living in it, we exploit it and ruin it as we try to make it sustain us. In turn, the park ruins us as it cannot provide the perfection of home that we seek.
Isaiah gives us words of joy! The crocus he refers to in 35:1-2 is the first flower of spring. It is symbolic of Jesus, both His first incarnation that we celebrate each Christmas, and His second coming that we await. We are still living in exile—but with hope, peace and joy!
Pastor Abel’s message drew to a close with the observation that we sanitize Christmas. We gloss over the nativity making it peaceful and nice instead of traumatic, painful and inconvenient. But God chose to come into the world this way to show us something. Jesus is without a home. He is forsaken on the cross, cast out into the darkness, in order to ransom us! We are the ransomed that shall return home with singing!