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JOY. That’s the theme of the third week of advent. After a call to live into hope and a challenge to repent to walk in the way of peace, comes a divine call to joy in the fact that God is our salvation.
Isaiah 35 is filled with images, that go beyond what words can communicate. The first half of the selection (1-4) tells of the wilderness or desert (they’re synonyms in the Bible) – a fearsome place of testing, trails, struggle and suffering, a place of dry danger…becoming a sign and a seal of new life, where life blossoms and flourishes. Written to the exiles in ancient Babylon (where the Israelites were held from 587-539 BCE) it’s a reminder of the wilderness they crossed in their exile, while will be transformed by God’s coming and their return. The second half v.5-10 tell of the consequences of this new thing that God is doing, this radical re-ordering of how we see and experience the world as a place of exile. Written to a people imprisoned in the despair of their loss and exile, it’s a bold word reminding them that their God excels in making a way out of no way. God’s coming signals a future for those who have given into hopelessness and despair. Where there is silence and tears, their will be songs of joy. Even the foolish won’t be able to get lost! (v. 10)
Matthew 11 tells of the fear and possible despair of John the Baptizer. Last week in Mt 3 we heard of his ministry and bold call to repentance, to turn around to welcome the reign of God in the world. Here he is now in prison, nearing his end, wondering as he hears about Jesus if he is the one to come, or if John should expect someone else? At the end of his journey, in the darkness of a cell, he wonders if it was all worth it. Jesus doesn’t answer his question directly. It was common for disciples to go back and forth between leaders, remember this is pre-SMS. The proof is in what is seen, and confirms the old prophecies: the blind, see (Matthew 9:27-31 and Isaiah 29:18, 35:5); the lepers are healed (Matthew 8:1-14; not in Isaiah); the deaf, hear (Mt 9:32-34, Isa 26:19); the dead are raised (Mt 9:18-19, 23-26 & Isa 26:19). The list culminates with the poor, a word that also means the destitute, the down & out, the desperate (maybe John the Baptist is in that category?), hearing the good news (Mt (:35-38, Isa 29:19, 61:1-2, 42:7).
The texts embody the new age or thing that God is doing, by claiming old biblical texts for new situations, extending their trajectories, suggesting new convergences, re-visioning God’s future & present.
Questions for Going Deeper