As people of faith, we have been given words of joy from our God who loves us more than we could ever imagine, words which remind us over and over again, that when it seems like the darkness is closing in, like we don’t have the strength to carry on, that is exactly when the Kingdom of God breaks in and shakes us up, wakes us up to the hope, to the peace, to the very joy which has been promised to us by our God since the beginning of time.
December 17, 2023
It’s A Wonderful Life
Isaiah 35: 1-10
Rev. Dr. Heather W. McColl
Isaiah 35: 1-10
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 shouting. 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 shall be opened; 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 travel on it, 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.
Enjoy It! Isaiah 35: 1-10
This text seems like an odd choice for this Sunday. At first glance, it doesn’t seem like our normal Advent text. In fact, it calls us to rejoice even before the Christ child is here. It calls us to celebrate gifts of joy before we get to Bethlehem. This out of place piece of Scripture calls us to experience God’s resplendent glory even before the angels announce the birth of Christ to some shepherds gathered on a hillside. Like I said, this text is an odd sort of text. However, its oddity makes it the perfect text for this odd sort of Sunday.
Here’s why I say this: We are three Sundays into our Advent season. We are almost to Bethlehem but not quite. We are almost to the fulfilled promise of the Christ child but not quite. On this third Sunday of Advent, we are almost there but not quite. It is an odd sort of Sunday as we catch a glimpse of the celebration which awaits us in Bethlehem. But we know we still have a ways to go before we reach the stable. Today is an odd sort of Sunday, with an odd sort of Scripture reading. And it includes an odd sort of tradition: a call to rejoice in the darkness by lighting a pink candle, a tradition which drives us crazy because that pink candle throws off the rotation. It seems out of place. And as people of faith, who like order, who like things done a certain way, who like the illusion that we can control anything and everything, we just don’t know what to do with this crazy pink candle sitting in the midst of the purple ones.
Now I’m going to let everyone in on a secret to help us with our need to have everything perfect, to like to have things done a certain way…It doesn’t work that way when it comes to the Kingdom of God. The Kingdom of God defies our logic. It defies our expectations. It shows up in life giving and surprising ways.
Or let me say it this way…I would like to invite everyone to watch the following scene from “It’s a Wonderful Life”. Again, it is a familiar scene and one I’m sure not many of us would bring to mind as the most joyful scene in the movie. In the previous scenes, Mary and George were just married. And as they were going out of town, they noticed a run on the bank, In fact, knowing this movie is set in the 1920’s, we know that the bank run is related to the stock market crashing and banks closing, introducing a time of great difficulty and fear for the people of this nation.
I invite us to watch how George, Mary, and citizens of Bedford Falls react to such news. (watch video)
Like the citizens of Bedford Falls, we need the George and Mary Baileys to interrupt our narratives of despair. We need the George and Mary Baileys to meet us in those in-between moments in our lives, moments when we find ourselves between fear and wholeness, moments when we find ourselves between having our feet knocked out from under us to moments when we find our footing again. Like the citizens of Bedford Falls, we need the George and Mary Baileys to remind us that this world does not have the last word.
You see, as people of faith, as we continue to face this hurt and broken world, as we continue to try to be the heart and hands of God here on Earth, we need ways for the Kingdom of God to break through the darkness, to break through the wilderness, to break through our everyday routine. We need ways for the Kingdom of God to find us and remind us of our call to celebrate now, to celebrate this day, to celebrate the ever-abiding presence of God in our midst, to remind us that as people of faith, we have been given words of joy from our God who loves us more than we could ever imagine, words which remind us over and over again, that when it seems like the darkness is closing in, when it seems like we don’t have the strength to carry on, that is exactly when the Kingdom of God breaks in and shakes us up, wakes us up to the hope, to the peace, to the very joy which has been promised to us by our God since the beginning of time. Just like these words did for the people of God all those years ago.
As we may remember, Isaiah is writing to a community which was hurting and in need of some hope. As the years passed between Isaiah’s vision of the peaceable kingdom and this call to rejoice, the future of the people of God began to look more bleak. Then as if they hadn’t suffered enough, now the community of Israel find themselves being taken into exile.
They have no idea of when they would return or even if they would return to the land promised to them by their God. At this point in the story, Isaiah’s community is being taken from their homeland. They are being ripped away from everything that they had known. They are being forced to leave the familiar and travel to an unknown land, as captives, as hostages, as prisoners. And in the midst of all that despair and darkness, Isaiah shares this wonderfully odd vision for his community. It is a vision where he tells them the impossible is made possible through the presence and power of God. It is a vision where the hard broken seemingly dead ground will burst forth into new life.
Now you know, this had to be an odd sort of news for the people. They had to be wondering what Isaiah was thinking in sharing this joyful vision. Here, in the midst of all depressing stuff, Isaiah interrupts their narrative of despair by daring to speak a word of joy. However, Isaiah knew that this call would not wait until things had improved. It would not wait until things are perfect.
Isaiah knew that these words which speak to the surprising, amazing, life-change ways in which the Kingdom of God works in our world, works in our lives had to be shared with the people of God right here and right now… Because that is how our God operates. Our God did not wait to come until the world was ready. Our God did not wait until humankind and nations were at peace. God came when the need was great, just like God does for us still today, for all of creation, each and every day, breaking in, and reminding us that the light of hope, the light of love will never ever be overcome by the darkness….because Despair and darkness is not how our faith story ends. As people of faith, we have seen the empty tomb. We have seen the stone rolled away. We have experienced hope and joy when everyone else had given up. We have had our sorrow turned into dancing!
Like George and Mary Bailey’s words to the community of Bedford Falls, these words from the prophet Isaiah lead the community through the wastelands because these words interrupted their, narrative of despair and invites us to see, truly see and experience where God is at work in our world, where God is already at work bringing healing and wholeness for all of God’s people. Like George and Mary Bailey’s words for the people of Bedford Falls, Isaiah’s words remind us time and time again that God has a wonderful way of showing up, surprising us and reminding us to celebrate with joy! Like George and Mary Bailey’s words to the people of Bedford Falls, Like Isaiah’s words to the people of Israel all those years ago, as people of faith, we have been given words of joy to renew us, to strengthen us, to encourage us, words of joy to remind us that our God is already at work bringing forth new life, that our God is already here bringing for God’s Beloved Community for all of God’s people. These words from the prophet Isaiah, these words from George and Mary Bailey remind us that love and light will always overcome so today and all days, let’s celebrate and enjoy this wonderful life. May it be so.
See also: Theology Tuesday for Sunday, December 17, 2023 – Enjoy It! Isaiah 35: 1-10.
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