3rd Sunday of Advent
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ! In the name of Jesus, who came once to redeem us and will come again to take us home, dear friends in Christ,
We want things and we want things now. Things like patience and waiting seem to becoming more and more extinct in our world. Waiting in a waiting room isn’t something that people look forward to, it’s something they endure. Being caught in a traffic jam and being forced to put your day on hold and wait isn’t something that generally brightens someone’s day. For most people a 10 day forecast without any highs above zero and having to wait indefinitely for nicer weather isn’t something that excites them. So how do you deal with waiting?
Perhaps the question is even more important when we consider our lives as God’s people. What is it that you are waiting for? Waiting for my relationship with my son, daughter, brother, sister to be restored, to be what it used to be. When that happens life will be so much better! Or maybe we’re waiting for that big promotion or that better job, if that happens, I hope my life will be so much better! Or maybe we’re waiting to find that significant other, then, I hope my life will be so much better. Or waiting to get my license so I can drive, or maybe waiting until I have reached the point when I can retire securely. Or maybe it’s getting over a health difficulty, then, I hope my life will be so much better.
We can often find ourselves caught in this round-about of waiting based on this hope that once our circumstances change, then our lives will be all better. That once we change this, alter that, once this part of our life is different then we can begin actually enjoying life. But God’s Word for us this morning causes us to change that perspective.
The people in Isaiah’s day were certainly waiting for their circumstances to change too. The people of Judah had witnessed their brothers and sisters in the north killed, captured, or exiled and their land destroyed and really turned into a desert wasteland by the Assyrians. The people in Judah were also facing the looming threat of destruction as Assyria was about to turn on them and destroy most of their land and, eventually, not the Assyrians, but the Babylonians would come in and completely destroy their nation and haul most of them off to captivity. The once glorious kingdom of David had now become a little pawn in the world scene among the world powers of the day. It would have been easy for them to grow tired of the bloodshed, tired of the oppression of their foreign oppressors, tired of the destruction of their homes and lives by foreign nations, and worst of all, tired of the seeming abandonment of God because of their sinfulness. The God-fearing Israelites would have all too easily become discouraged and disillusioned focusing on their current situation and circumstances.
And really so it was for John the Baptist too. What was his situation, his circumstance? He was languishing in prison for teaching and preaching God’s Word. He knew Jesus was the Christ, but, where’s all the acts of judgment and divine retribution? Why does John look like this failure while the wicked look like their winning? Questions and doubt plagued his mind and heart.
And so it is for you and me too. We look at the situation and circumstances of our world. Perhaps we’re filled with disillusionment when we see how rampant sin is in our world. Maybe even part of us wishes for the days of the past when things didn’t seem quite as bad. Maybe we’re waiting for better times, then we can feel better in our lives. Or we look at the situation of our lives: It’s so much easier not to live our faith, so much easier not to keep fighting temptation day after day after day, and so often we fail, we bruise and batter ourselves with our sins, we hurt from the lack of love we show others.
We know Jesus is the Christ, we know God is in control, but we also live in this already-not-yet sort of way. What we know to be true doesn’t always or even often align with what we see when we look at the circumstances and situation of our lives and of the world in which we live. And the devil will be more than happy to get a foothold into our hearts and shoot his arrows of questions, doubt, and despair, “Is God really in control?” “Does God really have a good plan for His people?” “Is God really carrying out that plan in MY life?” “Is God really helping me fight that temptation?”
To the Israelites who were struggling God gave Isaiah chapter 35, to John the Baptist who was struggling Jesus pointed Him back to Isaiah 35, and also to you and me who often struggle, God has given us Isaiah 35.
What is God doing here? He’s giving us a beautiful picture. God is the God of dramatic reversals and remarkable change. Things may look dreary and gloomy, but appearances can be deceiving. Here we have the barren wasteland desert rejoicing and blossoming and blooming. The desert was going to look like the beautiful areas of Israel – like Lebanon with its cedars, Carmel and Sharon, which were absolutely gorgeous and fertile and lush areas. Then we’ve got people with all kinds of disabilities being healed- the lame leaping like deer, the mute shouting for joy. Then we’ve got the desert gushing with water and springs. Then we’ve got this highway that has no unclean or wicked person on it, nor anything ferocious or evil, but only the redeemed of the Lord are on this highway. Then we’ve got the people of God singing and rejoicing and experiencing everlasting joy without any kind of sorrow or sadness.
Wow! That’s amazing! So what does all that mean? Well perhaps we need to try and put ourselves back in their shoes. The desert was a wasteland, impassable, if you were stuck in the middle of the desert it meant death. And having a disability was catastrophic- if you were blind or deaf or lame, you were facing a life of begging for food and likely an early death not to mention terrible suffering. And the roads in Israel weren’t exactly roads, they were paths often hard to walk over, often dangerous, often threatened by vicious animals or robbers or thieves. So even the roads would mean danger or even death. But all of that is going to change. The deserts are going to turn into lush tropics, the disabled people are healed, the roads turn into perfectly safe highways.
Perhaps it’d be easier for us to picture this in our terms. We don’t have deserts but we do have -20 or -30 degree weather. Being caught out in the middle of nowhere in -20 or -30 degree weather could mean death. Now imagine 75 and sunny with green grass blooming flowers in middle of January. We get the picture. Imagine a twisty iced over windy Northern Minnesota road – could mean danger or harm or death – but that road is changed to a nice perfectly dry, warm, straight, highway.
So what does all this mean? God is using picture language for us. Imagine a world where all the bad stuff is gone, anything that might cause fear or danger or disaster or death has been replaced with safety and security and life. Imagine a world where every threat or trouble or problem or crying or sadness has disappeared and there’s only joy and happiness and gladness and rejoicing and singing all the time. That’d be great! Right?
And really that’s exactly what you have in Christ your Savior! “Be strong, do not fear; your God will come, he will come with vengeance; with divine retribution he will come to save you.” Your God did come. He brought remarkable change. He came into world fraught and wrecked by sin and lived a holy, perfect, sinless life. He proved His power and authority not by smashing armies, but by smashing the effects of sin with His miracles of healing. He took head on our #1 enemies and defeated sin and the devil on the cross, forgiving all of your sins! He defeated death by rising from the dead to prove His victory! Because your God came, you have an eternity of joy to look forward to! And one day He’ll come and take you home!
But what about the mean time? How do we wait until He comes again? How do we deal with our circumstances and our situation? How can we remain patient under affliction, hardship, how can we endure setbacks and mistreatment by others? How can we wait for God’s coming in a world filled with sin and perversity and its awful effects? It’s nice to know that we have eternity awaiting us, but what about now? We live in this already-not-yet sort of way right now.
The Israelites of Isaiah’s day weren’t going to get to see the newborn babe in Bethlehem, John the Baptist wasn’t going to get to watch Jesus go to the cross as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. But God gave them a glimpse of the grand picture with His Words and bid them to trust in Him to carry out His plan of salvation.
You see, our God is a God who can do anything. Unlike us, God never has to worry whether or not things will turn out the way He wants. He’s going to make sure they do. Unlike us, God is never frustrated, He never has to throw his hands up in the air in exasperation and wonder, “Oh great, what am I going to do next?” Why? Because God can do anything, he can make the lame walk, he can make the desert bloom, he can cause water to gush forth in the desert wasteland. He can become a tiny baby in Bethlehem in order to pay for a whole world’s full of sin.
We, too, can get so focused on our own situation or circumstances, we can think that our hope in life lies making our lives better, if only our situation changes, then we can really live. But that’s not God’s answer. God’s answer is to step back and look at His grand picture. He remains in control. He has the ability to do anything including weaving your life story into His grand plan of salvation.
And knowing that God is in control, that God has saved you, that God can do anything is how you really live. Your hope lies not in you or your circumstances, but in God. God who can do absolutely anything. God who can take the dry, parched, mess of our sinful hearts and make them lush with His forgiveness can take the circumstances of our lives and use them for His glory. And since one day we know God will take us to heavenly glory we can live our lives now, deal with our circumstance or situations with joy and confidence, we can serve others instead of being served, we can care, help, encourage for we have a gracious God who is leading us on the Way of Holiness to eternity with Him. So, wait for the Lord in joy! Amen.