Isaiah 35: 4-10
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.’
5 Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened,
and the ears of the deaf unstopped;
6 then the lame shall leap like a deer,
and the tongue of the speechless sing for joy.
For waters shall break forth in the wilderness,
and streams in the desert;
7 the burning sand shall become a pool,
and the thirsty ground springs of water;
the haunt of jackals shall become a swamp,[a]
the grass shall become reeds and rushes.
8 A highway shall be there,
and it shall be called the Holy Way;
the unclean shall not travel on it,[b]
but it shall be for God’s people;[c]
no traveller, not even fools, shall go astray.
9 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.
10 And 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.
It’s getting close to Christmas now, isn’t it?
I like Christmas, the traditions, the music, the sense that everything stops for – well at least for a day anyway. Many houses of my road have their Christmas decorations up. I tend to leave that until about a week before Christmas day so the novelty doesn’t wear off.
Remember Christmas as a child? The excitement! But, goodnesss, that wait. Advent seemed to last several months as the anticipation of the day itself wore on.
When I was driving past Thorpe Park the other day I remembered being told by a member of staff there that there was a reason why queues for rides could be so long. Yes it was about crowd control, yes it was about capacity and safety. But it’s also about anticipation. The psychology suggests that sometimes the anticipation is as much of the event as the ride.
What are you anticipating?
A glimpse of what we thought was normal? Being able to see friends and family again without limitations and risk? A vaccine? Friends, we know that life will get better, but until then, we wait.
And as we wait, how do we keep our spirits up? OK so we don’t have to endure one of Fr. Damian’s Christmas pantos this year – yet perhaps, dare I say it, we’ll miss it. How do we keep our spirits up?
When I read the book of the prophet Isaiah I sometimes get a glimpse of this. We talk of “the prophet” yet theologians believe it to have been the work of two writers. The book can be seen in three distinct parts – the first being attributed to Isaiah himself, the second and third parts written by an anonymous 6th century BC author writing in and returning from exile.
The book was written at a time of major political turmoil, with the Assyrian empire directly threatening the Kingdom of Judah. Life would have been very difficult for that community as once again they faced potential exile. They must have spent each day longing for and awaiting the promised Messiah to save them.
And today’s reading gives them encouragement. It lifts their spirits. It sends a powerful message about the transforming nature of Christ: “Then they eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped.”
Over the last few days, as our Advent Maranatha! series develops, we’ve reflected on some serious considerations – judgement, the second coming, the need to be alert for Christ.
For us, we know that Christmas Day is the 25th December, Epiphany of 6th of January. We know that these really challenging months will give way to a vaccine and a high chance of a decent quality of life once more. We have a level of certainty. And that is a luxury. A luxury the jews didn’t have when Isaiah was writing. We can look back on the prophecy and see Word made Flesh, we can see that story unfold 2000 years ago.
But those Jews held faith. As a community they supported each other. Maranatha! is just one way for us as a church family to look after each other and over the next few months we must remain positive, actively listening out and helping those in need.
17 Deal bountifully with your servant,
so that I may live and observe your word.
18 Open my eyes, so that I may behold
wondrous things out of your law.
19 I live as an alien in the land;
do not hide your commandments from me.
20 My soul is consumed with longing
for your ordinances at all times.
21 You rebuke the insolent, accursed ones,
who wander from your commandments;
22 take away from me their scorn and contempt,
for I have kept your decrees.
23 Even though princes sit plotting against me,
your servant will meditate on your statutes.
24 Your decrees are my delight,
they are my counsellors.
For many of us there hasn’t been much to get excited about this year. But we are now in a new Christian year and we have that most wonderful gift of Jesus to look forward to. The prophet Isaiah not only foretold Christ’s coming but ensured his Jewish community shared in that joyful anticipation. How will you experience that sense of excitement this year?
A prayer from Iona
You keep us waiting.
You, the God of all time,
Want us to wait for the right time in which to discover
Who we are, where we must go,
Who will be with us, and what we must do.
So, thank you…for the waiting time.
You keep us looking.
You, the God of all space,
Want us to look in the right and wrong places for signs of hope,
For people who are hopeless,
For visions of a better world that will appear among the disappointments of the world we know.
So, thank you…for the looking time.
You keep us loving.
You, the God whose name is love,
Want us to be like you –
To love the loveless and the unlovely and the unlovable;
To love without jealousy or design or threat,
And most difficult of all, to love ourselves.
So, thank you…for the loving time.
And in all this you keep us,
Through hard questions with no easy answers;
Through failing where we hoped to succeed and making an impact when we felt useless;
Through the patience and the dreams and the love of others;
And through Jesus Christ and his Spirit, you keep us.