You Will Obtain Joy
This past Sunday in worship we turned out attention to those familiar words from the prophet Isaiah, speaking of the day of God’s arrival:
A voice cries out:
“In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord,
make straight in the desert a highway for our God.
Every valley shall be lifted up,
and every mountain and hill be made low;
the uneven ground shall become level,
and the rough places a plain.
This image of “the way of the Lord” is an important one in Scripture. Of course, in the gospels, John the Baptizer references this passage to tell of the coming of Jesus. The book of Acts tells us the early church actually called themselves “The Way.” But this image also appears earlier in Isaiah. Chapter 35, too, looks ahead to a time when the people of Israel will be brought home from exile (it’s a little long, but it’s worth it):
The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad,
the desert shall rejoice and blossom;
like the crocus it 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.
Strengthen the weak hands,
and make firm the feeble knees.
Say 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.”
Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened,
and the ears of the deaf unstopped;
then 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;
the 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.
A highway shall be there,
and it shall be called the Holy Way;
the unclean shall not pass it by,
but it shall be for God’s people;
no traveler, not even fools, shall go astray.
No 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.
And 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.
Isaiah describes a wholesale reversal of the world as we know it. The desert “rejoices” and “blossoms,” hot sand becoming like a “pool.” We, too, are changed: our weak hands are strengthened and feeble knees are firmed. Our fearful hearts are made strong. The eyes of the blind are opened and the ears of the deaf “unstopped.”
When God comes to take us home, the prophet tells us, all that ails us will be healed; all that holds us back from who we would be will be lifted. We will find joy and gladness; sorrow and sighing shall run away.
In the old world too, it seems, joy was not the norm. Sorrow was.
As I mentioned some weeks back, we’re making an effort to lift up joy in our worship together this Advent as the thread that holds these four weeks together. This coming Sunday is the third week of Advent, the one given over to joy.
While the other three candles in our Advent wreath are a deep purple, you’ll notice this Sunday’s is a rosy pink—a little break from the darkness of this season. A gentle reminder not only of the joy that is coming, but the joy that’s a part of our whole celebration. Pink, after all, is found within purple, when one removes the darker blues.
As the Chancel Choir once again leads us in our service of lessons and carols, and we hear in word and song the story of our faith from Genesis to Revelation, I hope you’ll take special care to trace the thread of joy throughout. And wild as it may be, that some measure of the Holy Way imagined by the prophet will be revealed to you.