The desert and the parched land will be glad; the wilderness will rejoice and blossom. Like the crocus, it will burst into bloom; it will rejoice greatly and shout for joy. The glory of Lebanon will be given to it, the splendor of Carmel and Sharon; they will see the glory of the Lord, the splendor of our God.
Strengthen the feeble hands, steady the knees that give way; say to those with fearful hearts, “Be strong, do not fear; your God will come, he will come with vengeance; with divine retribution he will come to save you.”
Then will the eyes of the blind be opened and the ears of the deaf unstopped. Then will the lame leap like a deer, and the mute tongue shout for joy. Water will gush forth in the wilderness and streams in the desert. The burning sand will become a pool, the thirsty ground bubbling springs. In the haunts where jackals once lay, grass and reeds and papyrus will grow.
And a highway will be there; it will be called the Way of Holiness; it will be for those who walk on that Way. The unclean will not journey on it; wicked fools will not go about on it. No lion will be there, nor any ravenous beast; they will not be found there. But only the redeemed will walk there, and those the Lord has rescued will return. They will enter Zion with singing; everlasting joy will crown their heads. Gladness and joy will overtake them, and sorrow and sighing will flee away.
The journey of Advent leads out of the desert and back to the garden. It’s a movement from trial to rest, from preparation to fulfillment, from waiting to arrival, from searching to finding. Even better than finding, to be being found.
Isaiah 35 sparks our biblical imagination, calling to mind memories of the exodus and the journey through the desert. After generations of slavery in Egypt, God hears the cries of his people and does something about it. He raises up Moses to bring the mightiest empire on earth to its knees. He breaks the chains of oppression and delivers the people from their bondage.
At the same time, this passage looks forward to the ministry of John of Baptist, the trailblazing voice in the wilderness, preparing the way for another exodus. Isaiah’s vision holds these two stories together, showing us that the Messiah who is coming will be our Moses, leading us out of slavery to sin and into the promise.
When John the pioneer is thrown into prison and begins to wonder if Jesus really is the Way, Jesus points him back to this very chapter in Isaiah. He sends this message to John: the blind see, the deaf hear, the lame leap, the stilled tongue shouts for joy. The wilderness through which you blazed a trail is springing to life. The desert is becoming a garden again.
Jesus is the Way we’ve been waiting for. But not a static gate or hidden passage that we must search for until we discover it. No. This Way is on the move. It winds through the farthest and forgotten corners of creation. It runs through the worst neighborhoods where others are afraid to go. It crosses lines and climbs walls. And finds us in the dry desert to lead us back home to freedom.
Jesus is most certainly the Way. And no one comes to the Father except through him. But the Father proves in the Advent moment that there is no place he is not willing to send Jesus to find us. Jesus carries with him all the hope of the kingdom, and when he catches you, joy and gladness will overtake you. In Advent, the Father catches us. And we cannot contain the pure joy of it. Like John the Baptist in his mother’s womb, our hearts leap inside us as we hear the story, our dry deserts burst with life as the Life draws near. The Way himself searches us out and redirects our hearts back home again.
In Advent we don’t find the way.
The Way finds us.
Jesus, find us where we are and bring the dead places to life.
AND THE WORD BECAME FLESH, AND MADE HIS DWELLING AMONG US.
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