Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Holy Ways are Ours Wholly

Isaiah 35:1-10
Tis the season of lights and fantasy and miracles. It’s a season where almost anything can happen…and sometimes does!  It is a time when the whole world breathes in deep extended breaths and exhales collectively a relative harmony, for peace and joy, for hope, healing, for reconciliation and redemption. 

Tis the season when folks try to find these things in glitzy and artificial ways.  The lights and music of the season, the inflatable snow globes and Santas that are larger than life on front lawns, which by the next day look like little deflated dead soldiers. The decked out halls of holly and flying reindeer might bring smiles to our faces.  But they are not the real miracles that transform our living, not really.  And so we continue to long for the day.

There have been times in history when the world has longed for redemption and peace, not so much different than today.  After the expansion of the Assyrian Empire the southern kingdom of Judah was conquered along with other nations.  Many people, the Israelites in particular, were exiled to Babylon. 

They longed for familiarity and their native soil.  They wept to remember their heritage and culture.  They wondered how they could sing out to their God in such an unfamiliar place. (Ps.137)  They needed to hear that one day they would return to Zion; that once again they would be restored in God’s favor and all would be ok, all would be healed.  They needed just a sliver of hope and a miracle of epic proportion!

So it is the prophet Isaiah who reassures them that they will again come home, that God will redeem them and show them favor.  Listen now to the poetic words of the prophet Isaiah from the 35th Chapter...….. 

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.

Crocus’ blossoming in the desert, waters in the wilderness, burning sand becomes a pool of cool, refreshing water…these images that Isaiah uses are nothing short of a miracle.  The Israelites never dreamed that they would be going home after so many years in exile, that would be like a crocus blooming in the desert, the impossible made possible and that is something to celebrate.

But what I am struck by most in this passage is that after the way home is made plain, the healing of the people can take place.  God’s way, the holy way makes them wholly healed.

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.

I want to tell you another story of God’s restorative love and perhaps even a miracle of some proportion.  I have a second congregation!  That’s right, right here in Orange I have a second congregation that I tend to once a month.  Didn’t know, did’ya?  Each month I go over to the nursing home and offer a worship service to about 15 residents there.

Now I didn’t realize that I began to look at them as ‘my’ congregation to pastor until two weeks ago I went over for the monthly service and one of the residents had died.  She was a spry, and I use that word loosely, woman who knew what was happening (more than the others), she could sing along however softly and she could find her own pages in the large print, home made hymnals. Plus she was always dressed up with her dyed hair in place and jewelry that she had made in craft class.  She was a lovely woman and I was shocked and saddened to hear the news and that’s when I realized that after 11 months of going over there I had begun to look at them differently, I had began to love them.

Well this service was our Christmas service.  We sang familiar carols.  Mostly it’s just Gracie, the rec director and myself that you can hear sing, but we sing out loud and strong!  We think most of the folks are following along but it’s hard to tell.  We pray and hear a story and recite the 23rd Psalm and the Lord’s Prayer together; those prayers they recall from childhood.  I can tell because they pop their heads up and I can hear audible sounds following along.  It’s a meaningful time although I often wonder how much of it they really get.    

So when I hear Isaiah’s words, “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,” I have to wonder.  Really?  These people whose eyes are so glazed over will be able to see?  All of these elder ears will be unplugged?  And God, you’ve got to be kidding me, these wheel chair bound and walker laden men and women will leap like deer?  Come on!

Well, as usual, I was wrong.  Lois is a woman who looks to be in her late 70’s.  She is slumped over to the left and drools like a teething one year old.  She can barely lift her arms to put them on the hymnal, she really has no control of her body and lives in a wheelchair.   As I was leaving that day, I turned around to say one last goodbye to the group and wish them God’s blessings for a nice Christmas, then I waved.  Well much to my surprise, Lois smiled and waved.  She lifted her arm up to her shoulder and just sort of swung it around.  I knew it was a wave goodbye, we made eye contact, and it was the best Christmas blessing ever.

How wrong I was second guessing God.  Yes, the lame leapt, and the tongues of the speechless sang out for joy and I believe a miracle occurred that day for both of us.  Lois felt love and strength and comfort in the story of God’s transformative and healing love through the incarnation of little baby Jesus and it moved her ailing body to transcend itself; a miracle occurred.  And of course, God treated me to a different understanding of healing in that moment.

This is the healing and restoration that Isaiah prophecies about, a spiritual healing, a spiritual transformation that would move the people from one place to the next, God has promised to restore their lives and make them well.  God will heal all of their spiritual disabilities so that they can be a faithful people in their land again.  The lame will leap, the deaf will hear and the blind will see. 
If we are honest with ourselves, we must admit that we are not in control as fully as we think we are.  Yet, amid the chaos of our lives, God exists with constant concern and care, and a promise to be with us always.  The delicate reality of our lives is that once we willingly relinquish control, God can begin that divine and redemptive work of spiritual healing and restoration.  It just may be though that our healing won’t be in the way we expect so be open.  What a surprise it will be!  Perhaps even a miracle can occur.

Soon another miracle will occur of a virgin who conceives a child. Mary was open to the miracle that Gabriel foretold and at that moment the history of the world changed.  Will you be able to recognize this miracle in your life?  God incarnate comes to us in the small and vulnerable Christ child and speaks the language of love, pure love. 

Advent is a time for preparation.  Let us prepare our lives, open our hearts, be attentive to the spirit and be ready to receive the greatest miracle of all.


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