Strengthen the weak hands,
and make firm the feeble knees.
Say to those with aching, fearful hearts,
"Hold on, don't give up! Your God is on the way.
The God of strength and justice,
compassion and salvation."
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.
As I contemplate my next Advent Journey Blog contribution, I am somehow struck by the inevitability of death. Not my own, but of a good friend’s Mom who’s been recently diagnosed with cancer. She isn’t doing well. From what my friend shares with me it doesn’t sound like her Mom is long for this earth. So, when I come to the words of Isaiah 35, and the picture they paint of the joy that awaits God’s redeemed, perhaps this is why the words that stand out to me are words like wilderness, desert and parched land, feeble hands and fearful hearts. I think this is why I’m grateful for the reminder this passage brings, that the promise of joy is for the ones who know deep grief, longing and struggle.
Indeed, in our struggle for justice, in our advocacy and activism, we are naturally drawn to notice what is broken and in need of repair. In this year’s Advent season, yes, we are preparing to celebrate the birth of Christ, this good news of great joy and God’s reign. Isaiah 35 points to joy we can know, even in waiting. This is joy that doesn’t gloss over our struggles and sorrow, but is the redemption and restoration of these very things! In this way, joy is not only our hope for the future, but also our courage in whatever circumstances we face. When we are tempted to hide our face from sorrow, be that our own or that of our neighbours, joy gives us the strength and resolve to look and see things differently.
Moyers, Mike. Be Thou My Vision, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. https://diglib.library.vanderbilt.edu/act-imagelink.pl?RC=57145