Let us pray: O Most Holy, as we prepare for your coming, illumine these scriptures for us that we may learn the will of your heart. Guide us and teach us the way of everlasting, and keep us in the palm of your hand. Amen.
Today’s theme in Advent is one of joy. The prophet Isaiah speaks glowingly of a vision put forth before his exiled people. But to offer it, he has to reach back in memory to the experience of God’s people when times were not so rosy, and they were being exported to Babylon. Today’s text includes God’s promise that these refugees and expatriates will return through the same journey from Babylon to their home land. Only this time, the desert will be blooming, and flourishing with abundant life. In this future time,
The wilderness is no longer a fearsome place of trial and testing, struggle and suffering. Instead, it is a place of joy and singing (v. 2a) and the revealing of the glory and majesty of God (v. 2b). This is a familiar theme in the [later] chapters [scholars] call Second Isaiah (e.g., 41:18–19; 51:3) and is designed to bring hope to exiles in Babylon.
Included also in this passage are concrete examples that may bring discomfort to contemporary hearers. Blind will see, deaf will hear, the lame will leap, mute will sing. Potential discomfort may arise from the tensions felt from those who may actually be blind, deaf, lame, mute, or any other designation that labels one as “other” than accepted main-stream normalcy. The tensions may be manifold.
First, actual physical ailments may not heal. How can Isaiah preach to me if my prayers for healing are never answered? Second, in recent times there has been considerable attempt to wordsmith politically correct language to assist talking about differently-abled peoples. It is not inconceivable, for example, for a blind person to find wholeness without sight. That is just one example. Another example might be from within deaf culture itself. “Deafness is not viewed as a condition requiring fixing, its is embraced as a distinctive characteristic.” Third, physical “abled-ness” is only the tip of the iceberg in a complex society made of peoples from all walks of life, all persuasions in life, and all abilities in life, no matter what assistance is needed or employed to make an individual’s “able-ness,” whatever it is, to function for their life to be complete.
With that backdrop in place, how can we approach Isaiah’s joy-filled promise about wholeness with seeing, hearing, mobility, and vocal song intact? As one commentator put it, “Surely this promise goes deeper than the physical, to the spiritual.” Perhaps for our contemporary interpretation, this is an area we can focus on; and here is where we get audience participation.
What are some spiritual level blindness, deafness, lameness, and muteness that we might identify in ourselves? What about as a community? What about as a nation or as global citizens? Please turn to a neighbor for a few moments to share your thoughts. If you wish to remain silent, you are welcome to ask for a pass.
Some concluding thoughts about the Isaiah passage:
“This text does what Advent does: it points backward to old promises, which point forward to a fuller, future joy. We still live in the in-between time, as this prophet’s people did. We are asked to take heart. God will come and save, we will find our Holy Way toward home, and our mouths will be filled with no more sighing, only song.”
Does it connect to Jesus and the rest of our Christmastide as it builds and builds and finally breaks over us in a wave? Yes, as Christians have reinterpreted this text for a post – Jesus “in-between” time as we await his coming again. As one commentator put it,
The text, in other words, is doing what good preaching must do. It is claiming old texts for new situations, extending their trajectories, suggesting new convergences, re-visioning God’s dominion, future and present. This is the move that Advent in particular requires us to make. The promised Immanuel already came and is surely still among us—so why on earth are we singing “O come, O come, Immanuel”? Because Immanuel’s visitation among us is an unsatisfied fulfillment. Real captives and refugees suffer in the present; the earth is a burning desert; bodies are broken; cities are joyless; and human hearts everywhere, including our own, are sighing.
So it is our job to seek joy, to celebrate when glad homecomings do occur, to work toward healing of the broken, and both watch for and work towards moments of liberation. Jesus is still at work in the world; watching for his hands and feet at work even as we put our own to service in his name. Isaiah’s commands to his people are still valid for us, as listed in poetic imperative in verses 3-4;
Strengthen the feeble hands,
steady the knees that give way;
4 say to those with fearful hearts,
“Be strong, do not fear;
your God will come….”
May all glory be unto the One who lived, died, rose again, and even yet is coming, even Him who is the Christ. Amen? May it be so.
 Bruce C. Birch, “Exegetical Perspective, Isaiah 35:1-10” in Feasting on the Word – Year A, ed. David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2010). Accordance edition hyper-texted and formatted by OakTree Software, Inc. Version 2.0
 Stacey Simpson Duke, “Pastoral Perspective, Isaiah 35:1-10” in Feasting on the Word – Year A, ed. David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2010). Accordance edition hyper-texted and formatted by OakTree Software, Inc. Version 2.0
 Paul Simpson Duke, “Homiletical Perspective, Isaiah 35:1-10” in Feasting on the Word – Year A, ed. David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2010). Accordance edition hyper-texted and formatted by OakTree Software, Inc. Version 2.0