Advent 3A: Altars in the Desert

Crocus Desert IrisThis Week’s Lectionary Passage:  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 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 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.

Look!  Look really, really hard!  This is not some proclamation of some future utopian world.  This is not our reward that God is dangling before us for living righteous lives.  This is not some other place in some other realm or some other life.  This is God’s vision for the world that is here, that is now.  It is there, blooming in the desert even as we speak.  The question, then, is whether or not we really dare to imagine it into being, dare to open our eyes to see the Kingdom of God come pouring into our lives.  Albert Einstein once said that “your imagination is your preview of life’s coming attractions.”  So what do you imagine is next?  The writer of this passage was probably writing to an exiled people, a people who had been so beat up and put down that they were having a hard time imagining anything else.  But this writer looked at a world that was in chaos and saw order, looked at a road so overgrown that it was thought to be impassable and saw a highway, and looked at the thirsty, lifeless desert and saw blooms.  And then he or she writes of a scene that was beyond what anyone ever thought would happen.  He envisions these exiles, these people whose hopes and dreams had long been quashed and whose lives had become nothing more than an exercise in survival dancing and singing with joy as they returned home.

Why can’t we do that?  Have we come so far from this that there is no way back?  Do we have our lives so sowed up that we cannot open ourselves to imagining something else?  Are our plans so finalized that we are not able to listen to another way?  What if this year were different?  What if instead of preparing for a Christmas like you’ve always had, you prepared for the coming of God into this world, for a world beyond anything that you can plan or even fathom to suddenly come flooding in to the tune of “Hark, the Herald Angels Sing” as you light your Christmas candle on the 24th?  Now THAT is what the writer is talking about!

In this season of Advent, we are not just called to look toward that day about which the writer of this passage writes.  We are reminded to look FOR that day, to imagine and believe it into being and to see what of it is already there.  We live within a holy tension of the way the world is and the way God calls the world to be.  But we are reminded that the blooms in the desert are already planted.  We just have to open our eyes to the possibility and then sing and dance for joy.  It will be the fulfillment of the promise that has always been there and, finally, there will indeed be “joy to the world.” Barbara Brown Taylor says that “Human beings may separate things into as many piles as we wish—separating spirit from flesh, sacred from secular, church from world.  But we should not be surprised when God does not recognize the distinctions we make between the two.  Earth is so thick with divine possibility that it is a wonder we can walk anywhere without cracking our shins on altars. (An Altar in the World:  A Geography of Faith, p. 15.)  So, what if everything that you saw, everything that you touched, was indeed holy–maybe not holy in the “holier-than-thou, overly-righteous, inaccessible-to-the-ordinary-human” sense, but rather “thick with divine possibility,” filled with the promise of redemption, the promise that buried deep within its being were deserts waiting to bloom?  Look!  Look really, really hard!

Click on this link for pure joy!

Lift up your heads, ye mighty gates; behold the King of glory waits; the King of kings is drawing near, the Savior of the world is here!      (Georg Weissel, 1642)

Reflection:  How would you prepare for the coming of God into this world?  How do you imagine a world that is filled with holiness, thick with divine possibility, and the very vision that God imagines?  What do you have to do to look really, really hard?

Grace and Peace,


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