A Sermon for 11 December 2016 – 3rd Sunday of Advent
Isaiah 35:1-10 and Luke 1:46-55
A reading from the prophet Isaiah 35:1-10. Listen for God’s word to us.
“The 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 speechless 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 traveler, 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.”
This is the word of God for the people of God. Thanks be to God!
It comes as no surprise: that we live in a culture of instant gratification. Messages that used to take an ocean vessel months to deliver from one side of the world to the other, now are received in a moment. We can pull up to a drive-through today to be eating within minutes instead of heading out to a garden or field or barn to gather our own harvests after months of tending and toiling followed by all the time and effort it takes before finally sitting down to feast. Though our chances might be a zillion-to-one, one of us could strike it rich in a snap in the lottery. Wanna know what the weather’s supposed to be like later this week? Open an app on your smart phone to find right out. Wanna read the latest release by your favorite author? No need to mess with jammed parking lots at the mall, download the title in an instant and start reading right away. Fast, fast, fast. For a price, today we can get almost anything we want the moment it enters our minds.
Maybe that’s why more and more of us pitch a fit whenever we have to wait. Wait for the customer in the line ahead of us. Wait for the car that turned illegally into the intersection and now holds up all the traffic. Wait for an appointment regarding a medical condition. Wait for a loved one to come home. Wait for an apology or the end of a bitter divide. Wait for things to change the way we hope they will. Wait – truly wait during Advent – stalling premature celebrations before the December 24th arrival of the most holy of nights. Fewer and fewer of us seem to welcome a wait. Nonetheless, life is full of waiting. No matter how fast we’ve been able to speed up so many things in this world, we still can’t get an answer any quicker to an earnest prayer. We can’t make the night end so that the warmth of daylight will return. We can’t short circuit the time it takes to heal a broken heart. We can’t more deeply know God and see what God’s up to in our lives any faster than the slow passing of each day. In all these circumstances, we can’t do much of anything else except wait. Wait. Wait. Patiently wait.
It helps when we keep our focus on what we are waiting for. The prophet Isaiah knew this. In the 35th chapter of this intriguing book, it is believed that God’s people were waiting yet. According to biblical scholars, this portion of Isaiah is considered a part of Second Isaiah – the prophesy to the exiles who still are living in Babylon (Feasting on the Word, Year A, Vol. 1; Bruce C. Birch, p. 51). Whereas First Isaiah warns that it could happen and Third Isaiah is for those who finally had returned to begin rebuilding life; Second Isaiah comes in between. While the people of God still exist outside their beloved homeland. When the Southern kingdom fell, little ones were carted off to Babylon along with their mothers and fathers and grandparents. As far as is known, they weren’t totally enslaved. Just taken away without the option to return. Though the deportation was filled with destructive violence, when they arrive in Babylon; they had homes and livelihoods – though they were surrounded daily by people whose ways they could not understand. The worst was that they no longer had the Temple in which to carry out religious practices. Even if things sometimes got distorted back home in Jerusalem, there they at least had the freedom to know God as they had known God for centuries. Babylon meant the start of something new with God – though they couldn’t yet imagine what that would be. . . . Many of them would die there waiting in that foreign land – dreaming of home but never again crossing over the Jordan into their beautiful promised paradise. A few patiently lived the seven decades in Babylon before returning to Judah forever. Most that came home were born exiles in a faraway land wondering if they’d ever make back to see for themselves the places for which their parents pined. The prophet’s voice encourages the people while they wait and wait and wait so far from their native home. No one wants them to give up hope. And they cannot be left to wonder if God was destroyed forever in the ashes of the glorious Temple. . . . And so: the prophet proclaims a time when the desert-like land their ancestors knew forty-long years will blossom like a fertile garden. For any growing old and for those about to give up hope on ever returning home, the prophet booms: “Be strong. Do not fear!” (Isaiah 35:4). God has not forgotten. Just as the tears in Egypt made their way into Heaven’s ear, the LORD is with them still. The day of salvation draws near. . . . It can be difficult to wait for eyes to be opened and ears to hear. For those whose bodies are frail to bound again with youthful energy. For deep silences at last to give way to songs of never-ending joy! They must wait. Patiently wait in Babylon, for at last a way shall unfold – a Holy Way in which all God’s people will walk. No harm shall surround so that nothing but joy, joy, joy shall remain! Wait. Wait for the Way – God’s Way – surely is coming.
Waiting is risky business. It reminds us that we are not in control. Waiting in hope challenges us not to doubt. Waiting patiently teaches that all things, in their own time, must unfold. . . . The first scripture reading for today reminds us of another one who allowed herself to wait. From the start, something inexplicable was taking place inside. Though she was given the opportunity to say no or yes, young Mary certainly was learning that things were not one bit in her control. She was swept up in something so much bigger than she ever could imagine for her life. The words of her brilliant song ring out: “My soul magnifies the LORD and my spirit rejoices in my Savior!” (Luke 1:47). We never hear what other tunes vied for her attention during those nine long months. Was it possible she did what so many of us do during times of waiting? Did she doubt? Did she worry that no one would ever believe the crazy story? Did she wonder that if she did something wrong God might change God’s mind? She couldn’t rush the process along – no matter how awful the sickness of the first trimester or how annoying the uncomfortable final weeks. It’s not recorded in Scripture that she ever tried every trick in the book to get Joseph to believe her quicker or went into an all-out temper tantrum when he said, that near her end, that they had to travel ninety miles to Bethlehem. She knew her people’s history and how long they had to wait. In Egypt. In the wilderness. In exile. Even back home, waiting for the bread of freedom. Was she willing to wait because somewhere inside she knew it was worth it? Because she trusted the God who always makes a way – no matter how long the wait? . . . Waiting. Waiting. Waiting for the day at last when all things are new.
I’m grateful for all the conveniences of our lives that really do make lots easier. But we’ve got to find a way to learn again how to wait. In patience. In hope. Like Mary and our exiled ancestors too. For some things are better left un-rushed. Even if we can’t see the bigger picture of why. Some things need to take time . . . time to unfold slowly that we might be prepared for what will come. Time for space to be opened in our hearts to receive whatever will be. . . . Rest assured: we’re waiting for something good! Something very, very good! Something as beautiful as transformed deserts, with cool springs satiating parched places and crocuses blooming abundantly. We’re waiting for the day when our own blinded eyes shall see and at last we hear whispered in our ear the sweet words of God: “Do not fear. I AM with you. Together we are home!” Then we shall leap like when we were young on Christmas morning and could not contain our excitement. Then we shall sing . . . sing for joy – even if we think we can’t carry much of a tune. We shall rejoice and be merry forever for everlasting joy shall remain in us. A Way. The Way is being made!
Wait, people of God. Wait. Patiently wait.
In the name of the life-giving Father, the life-redeeming Son, and the life-sustaining Spirit, Amen.
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