BY THE REV'D CANON ART GOING, CANON FOR LEADERSHIP DEVELOPMENT
There are many things to love about the Advent season:
food ... the aroma of foods and spices (baking!)
Advent calendars, Advent wreaths
the dancing array of Christmas lights aglow in neighborhoods [tasteful or tacky?]
travel, road trips ... it’s good to go home for Christmas: it’s good to create new homecoming habits if we’ve lost them, good to replace distant or lost kin with friendships that help us make a home for Christmas, good to make sure grown up kids know you love to have them home for the holidays
But also good to remember: even when we go home for Christmas, the only right place to be is on our knees in front of the manger, our true home, with God, the God who left his Father’s home at Christmas Craig Barnesreminds us, “Bethlehem isn’t really a place you get to; it’s where God gets to you.”
But I especially love the music …
all kinds of music: with Pandora, Spotify, etc., I can totally avoid music I don’t like and focus on getting my fix of Rutter, Kings College, Chanticleer, Kathleen Battle
and we can all anticipate the live Nine Lessons Carols from Cambridge
And then there’s Isaiah 35! On the Third Sunday of Advent this year we’ll hear the stunningly beautiful words of Isaiah 35: the prophet locates God's promise within every human lack, every loneliness, and every desolation.
In the wilderness—Singing!! The main divisions of Isaiah 35 ate marked off by repetition of two words: the first key word is sing (vv. 2, 6, 10); the second is glad (vv, 1 & 10). The poem begins and ends with gladness.
Isa 35 promises a time WHEN THE WILDERNESS SINGS
Wilderness is a place of flight and of freedom. The Bible is rife with pictures and stories of wilderness, a place populated by deadly animals, where water is scarce, where crops do not grow, where it’s easy to get lost. On a couple of Advent Sundays we’ll be reminded of the people who went out into wilderness to see and hear John the Baptist.
In the wilderness, there are stark signs that something vibrant and vital is missing.
You would think wilderness was a place to get out of! But listen to Fred Niedner: “The Holy Way of Advent that cross-toting fools tread leads not out of the wilderness but ever deeper into it. None of us will escape the wilderness ... our whole life happens within its wordless void, on its arid slopes that drain the life from us as we wander in circles learning the same old lessons over and over.”
… weak hands, feeble knees; failing, falling, straying, stumbling, limping; unclear paths, no clear landmarks ... are we there yet?
… thirsty; no thing, no word ... tongues swollen, unable to talk, much less sing ... anxious hearts …
The wilderness is a fearful place.
But the wilderness is where God's people learn to trust. In the wilderness God carried them, fed them, gave them improbable water. In the wilderness God found his people, guarded and cared for them, and lifted them up.
And Isaiah invites us to a future when the wilderness sings!
Isaiah promised it: the dry land will blossom with life, dry earth will be given glory and splendor ... even as God's own glory and splendor (the visible manifestations of divine sovereign power) are revealed.
The wilderness will rejoice with singing. The way of death becomes a way of life; the wilderness will be glad, the desert rejoice, the barren bloom!
God will come—wait for it! God will come to save you!
Waters will break forth in the wilderness, streams in the desert. No longer blind, we see the way ahead; no longer lame, we will skip, run; no longer mute or voiceless, all will join the chorus as we run to the city of God.
At Thanksgiving, we remembered the death of my mother just a few years ago, right before Thanksgiving. We remembered her aphasia and dementia—a great talker stilled! Along the way, there was joy and depression ... she was sometimes irritable, occasionally petty or vindictive; she could be hard on the people closest to her—she was a sinner, like all of us.
But what matters is this: she was loved by the Father, redeemed by Jesus, grafted into family of Christ in baptism, nurtured in one church family after another, sharing her gifts in service … she knew the constant companionship of the Holy Spirit, praying in her groaning these last years, with sighs too deep for words.
In many of our churches we pray each week for our kids: “Give them strength to stand firm in faith in our Lord Jesus Christ so that they might never know a day apart from you.” For my mom, there was never a day when she didn't know Jesus, her constant companion … and she made sure her children knew him, and then found ways to introduce him to her grandchildren.
And even when her voice was stilled I heard her mornings, praying at the kitchen table: “This is the day that the Lord has made; I will rejoice and be glad in it.” In my mother’s last days I heard the wilderness singing.
The promise is also a commission: “Strengthen the weak hands, and make firm feeble knees. Say to those who have an anxious heart: Be strong, fear not!”
When we see …
… a pair of hands grown weak from disuse, that can hold nothing and no longer do the work they were made for, too exhausted to fend for themselves ... make them strong.
… a pair of knees that give way to staggering and stumbling, too shaky to take one more step ... make them firm.
… people whose hearts are gripped by anxiety, harassed people whose minds are under such stress that they are rash and reckless ... tell them, "Be strong; fear not.”
People in the wilderness need Advent people—they need the people of God, who have heard to good news of Jesus, the word of life, who have seen with our eyes the goodness of the Lord in our own lives, who have tasted his mercy week after week, who have heard the wilderness sing.