Where do we see the Messiah's promising presence at work in the world? Or do we see it at all? Do we even know what those promises are or where they began? Without the story of God, why do we even question the state the world is in?
In a world where there is always war – how do we know what peace looks like?
In a world always full of suffering – how do we know what to hope for?
In a world of sadness – what does joy feel like?
In a world permeated by hate – what does it love look like?
The promise of Isaiah contrasts the two worlds – one of wilderness and one of life.
We don't live in a wilderness or desert...or do we? Tell people you live in Paulding County and they'll look at you like you're from another planet. Just five years ago, folks in Marietta used to joke about Hiram being the sticks and today you run into them shopping at Wal-Mart and going to Movies 278! Just 5 years ago, Cedarcrest was full of pine trees. Catch up with some of our old time families like the Ragsdales and Austins and Grogans and they'll tell you of the days when Cedarcrest Rd. was a 'pig trail.' For good or bad, we've been seeing a wilderness transformed – if only we have eyes to see.
My description is no where near what the words of Isaiah describe. It is classical poetry structured not merely to relay facts but share a vision. Like good story, good poetry changes minds by changing our emotions first.
It is a foreign desert and while we may never have driven through Death Valley, we've all lived through desert places. Whether we've known weakness or blindness isn't required – the writer paints a description that targets what we've seen or touched. This is one of those breaking away points for us – this poetry, a painting with words of a world that is and one that is not yet.
The structure is called a Chiasm – a pattern that walks us to a central point and then out again. For Isaiah, it moves this way..
Creation – healing
Humanity – healing
God – coming to save
Humanity – healing completed
Creation – healing completed
Consider our days right now. Gone are the greens of summer and even the yellows and oranges of fall have melted away. Consider as you leave today how in a sense, death reigns over the landscape of God's creation. Isaiah is writing to a people who have been dead inside and who are beginning to walk what they expect to be the barren, dead landscape from their exile and captivity in Babylon. They are on their way home...
Isaiah begins by painting a picture with words in his poetic description of the day of God's coming. They are words of encouragement and hope for a weary people on a long journey. Journeys like this aren't always ones in desert lands. Often they are in the desert place of our souls when we lose sight of God. Desolate places are in relationships at times with family and friends, damaged by the past.
But there is healing promised, and it begins in this one key verse of 4: Say 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." Now that is the kind of God I'm talking about! At my greatest need – nothing is standing in his way...but it at his time that he is coming not mine or yours and often lost is that God is coming for His people – not just one or the other.
We are a very self centered people after all. It is one of the things which at times makes it difficult for us to read these words and even to live our lives – you and I have a hard time turning the “m” in me right-side up so it says “we.”
Years later, after the Christmas night, Jesus had begun his ministry but his cousin John was sitting in prison waiting to find out his fate. But when in Matthew 11:3, John sends his disciples to ask Jesus if he is the Messiah, he asks, “Are you the one, or should WE wait for another?” And Jesus pointed to Isaiah 35, verse 5 and after and “... answered them, "Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them. Matthew 11:4” The waiting for the Messiah was over.
Yet, we are called to wait again, to wait for His coming again.
It was a Sunday afternoon in Seattle when the priest stopped by the home of a member after church. She had a five-year old daughter who had just gotten a new jump rope. Like all of the best clergy, the priest began to demonstrate the finer points of jumping rope. After a while the daughter began to jump. First one time and then two. The mom and priest clapped loudly and cheered her accomplishments. After a while, the girl was doing quite well. She wandered off to practice more on her own and so the priest and the mom began to talk. It was only a few moments before the little girl returned dragging her rope and showing off a very pouty face. “Mommy,” she said, “I can do it but I need lots of clapping (The Spirituality of Imperfection, Kurtz and Ketcham).”
We can wait for the second coming of Jesus but not alone. We can journey the desert paths but we need lots of clapping. You are NOT alone in the desert place. I am NOT alone in the desert place. We have each other and it is together we wait for the coming of God. How much better it is to wait together. This is the promise of Joy on this day – for a day of JOY is coming. I invite you today to a community that waits with hands at work and hands at worship and ALWAYS with hands clapping!