Cathy Cox

Sunday, Advent 3 December 11, 2022
Isaiah 35:1-10, Psalm 146, James 5:7-10, Matthew 11:2-11

Anathea Porter-Young, professor of NT at Duke Divinity School has written a profound and beautiful reflection on this passage. Most of what I want to say today comes directly from her commentary.

“They will rejoice.”
This is the first word of Isaiah’s vision in Chapter 35 and it is the focus of the entire passage.
The time is the future – but no time is specified.
The place is named clearly and specifically: it is the wilderness.
This detail is not incidental. It locates God’s promise within every human lack, every loneliness, and every desolation – It locates God’s promise within a complex history of slavery and redemption, failure and faith. “

“Wilderness” in the Bible has many meanings – It is a place of flight and freedom, as in the Exodus. But it is dangerous: there is no water, deadly animals dwell there, crops do not grow, it is easy to get lost.

And yet, it is in the wilderness that God’s people learned to trust – It is there that God guarded and cared for God’s people, fed them, gave them improbable water, and guided them safely.

Isaiah’s wilderness sings: 35:1-2 – It will bloom – it will shout for joy –

“The prophet declares the joy of an earth wrung dry – wilderness, dry land, desert – and then shows us the reason: a profusion of blooms, shoots of new growth budding toward fruit. Earth’s joyful response swells into an echoing chorus celebrating the gidt of life. This dry earth will be given glory and splendor, visible manifestations of creaturely fruitfulness and abundance, even as God’s own glory and splendor, the visible manifestations of divine sovereign power, are revealed. And the God whose glory they will see, declares the prophet, is OUR God.”

But then the focus on the future turns to the present.
And now the focus shifts from dry land to weak and frightened people, form green growth to courage and strength. Isaiah gave a vision. But now he gives the audience – Israel, for sure – but also each of us -and all of us together.
Now Isaiah gives to us – as to discouraged and suffering Israel, a commission.

“The prophet shows us a pair of hands that have grown weak…They can hold nothing and no longer do the work they were made to do. ‘Make them strong.’
The prophet shows us a pair of knees that give way to staggering and stumbling… ‘Make them firm.’
The prophets shows us people whose hearts and minds are racing, gripped by anxiety. Tell them, says Isaiah, ‘Be strong, do not fear.’
And the prophet gives us a reason…If you open your eyes and look, you will see that right here is your God. (v4)”

God is here. God will come. – God will come and save you. (v4)

And when God comes, “the eyes of the blind will be opened, and the ears of the deaf will be opened. Then a lame man will leap like the stag and the silent man’s tongue will shout, because waters will break open in the wilderness and streams in the desert.”

“God’s coming transforms every inability into ability, and every lack into miraculous abundance. God’s coming brings the capacity to see and hear to those whose senses are starving for light and sound…atrophied muscles grow strong and limber…They are for nothing but for the gratuitous expression of joy in what God can do and what God has done. The man who could not walk will have strength in his legs to walk. But he won’t walk. He will jump. He will leap and bound like a fool for God. The man who couldn’t speak will find himself able to talk. But he won’t talk., He will shout and sing, He will praise God at the top of his lungs.”

“There, in the place that was once wilderness, once a place of wandering, will be a raised road. There will be no more wandering – and no more danger. The people God has redeemed will walk on it, and they will turn and come home…as they walk homeward, upon their head like a canopy, a garland, or a crown, will be joy not bounded by time. Rejoicing and gladness will meet them on the road Sorrow and sighing will flee away.”

Now look at the passage from Matthew.
See what Jesus said in response to John’s question.
In Him is the desert turned to a watered spring and in him weakness is turned to strength – and in Him we walk and return home safely –

Reflect on this today and all this week as you go about your work; as you live with stress and maybe sorrow; as you struggle to find hope and gladness in the dark places of your own life, in your own wilderness.

Advent invites us to trust God in whatever wilderness we find ourselves. To see even our wilderness as a place of watered springs. And to leap and shout and sing. And together we walk home.



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