December 13, 2020

Joy In The Wilderness

Passage: Isaiah 35:1-10

Writer C. W. Metcalf was working as a hospice volunteer when he met 13-year-old Chuck, who was terminally ill.  One day Chuck gave Metcalf a few sheets of paper with writing on both sides and said, “I want you to give this to my mom and dad after I die. It’s a list of all the fun we had, all the times we laughed.”  Metcalf was amazed that this young boy on the verge of death was thinking about joy.  He had all the reason to be in despair.  He never would have a life with promising prospects –  no career or a family of his own.  Metcalf delivered the list to Chuck’s parents the day after he passed.  Years later Metcalf was still thinking of a boy that taught him so much about joy.  Perhaps Chuck had a comprehension of what St. Paul wrote about while sitting in a prison cell in Rome.  When he was stripped of everything and was hungry and cold, he wrote, “Rejoice in the Lord always, I will say it again: Rejoice!”  Philippians 4: 4.                           I think you will agree with me – at this point in time there are thousands in our world who would much rather sing in a choir of lament than singing about the joy God brings to His people.  It’s like they want to say, “How can you live in denial?  Just look around you – there are the homeless in every city of the world.  There are the orphans on the streets in African and South American countries.  What future is there for them?  And what about the reality that has taken over the world – Covid-19.  How can you gather on a day in Advent and think of Joy to the world?”  In the days of Isaiah there were the same tones of despair – it was just different wording.  You see, spiritually God’s people found themselves in the wilderness.  They were in Babylonian exile and they couldn’t look further than the oppression and poverty they faced each day.  At that time, joy was as far from God’s people as they felt He was far away from them on His heavenly throne.

But then…Isaiah had a radical vision of what it would be like 1 To Discover Joy.  Because it was joy found in the wilderness.  The wilderness, usually a place of dryness, of emptiness and of death, would suddenly come to life with joy.  In his vision, he foresaw the coming of One Who would offer us a new way of living, One Who would bring us overflowing joy.  Yes Isaiah had a vision of Jesus Christ Who would offer us salvation, hope, peace and love together with joy.  At last, the dry land would be changed into a place for God’s people to rejoice about a new horizon.  Listen to Isaiah’s words, “The desert and the parched land will be glad; the wilderness will rejoice and blossom.  Like the crocus, it will burst into bloom; it will rejoice greatly and shout for joy.  The glory of Lebanon will be given to it, the splendour of Carmel and Sharon;  they will see the glory of the Lord, the splendour of our God.”  This prophecy of Isaiah came into reality – God’s promise of the Messiah was fulfilled.  It wasn’t like one of the empty promises of the world that left people disappointed.  No, dark clouds gave way to the light of Jesus’ joy.  Wasn’t that what the angel told the shepherds on the night Jesus came into our world, “I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.  Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you; He is Christ the Lord.”  This is still the good news after more than 2000 years – in Jesus Christ joy is still a presence.  There is nothing in this world that will be able to snuff out the flame of His joy in people’s hearts.  This passage from Isaiah 35 reminds us of what it’s like to have Christ come into your life.  It’s like joy in the desert!  The commentaries tell us that the sudden change in deserts with rain coming is something that is usually above people’s comprehension.  In places where it looked like no life was possible, grass fields and plants are submerging from the sand.  Suddenly the deadness is something of the past!  There is a documentary that was made in the 70’s that I can watch over and over again.  It’s about the Namib desert and it portrays the change of life in the desert when the first rain comes.  One of the scenes in this documentary is where pink flamingos dance with joy.  It’s like they celebrate what they have been waiting for so long – water to bring life.  My friends, our Advent Joy is in Jesus Christ.  He came to fill His people’s hearts with joy.  And it was so profound for all God’s people when they saw the Messiah.  We will always cherish what played off at the temple when Jesus was presented.  It was when Simeon and Anna in their advanced age saw Jesus and greatly rejoiced.

Isaiah continued in this prophecy – 2 Find Your Strength In The Saviour.  We read in verses 3&4, “Strengthen the feeble hands, steady the knees that give way;  say to those with fearful hearts, “Be strong, do not fear; your God will come, He will come with vengeance; with divine retribution He will come to save you.”   Welcoming Christ into your life is like having someone strong beside you when you are at your weakest point.  We see it often in hospitals where people undergo therapy after surgery or accidents.  The therapist is someone essential to have beside you – someone you just have to trust.  That, Jesus became for each one of us – He came to save us when we were under the condemnation of sin.  He convinced us to place our entire being in His hands.  And only He could save us from the pit of sin when we were at our weakest.  And then…Jesus brought joy to drive out fear.  You see, fear is the one thing that suppresses joy – fear for tomorrow, fear for the diagnosis the physician will make, fear for our children and grandchildren’s future, fear for powers in the world.  But do you know, in the midst of power and fear, Jesus came into our world.  The angel told the shepherds, “Do not fear!”  In Luke chapter 2 we learn that in the time of Caesar Augustus a census was ordered in the entire Roman world – a power more fearsome than any other we can imagine.   And now God says, “Any other power like the Roman empire is nothing in comparison to my might – My Son came to bring Joy in the wilderness.”

Isaiah concludes – 3 The Coming Of The Saviour Will Bring The Way Of Holiness.  We read in verse 8, “And a highway will be there; it will be called the Way of Holiness; it will be for those who walk on that Way.  The unclean will not journey on it; wicked fools will not go about on it.”  It is like having a new way opened up before you, a way you could never see before – the way of holiness.  To me it’s like when you move to a new location and you go on a road that is boring and far and someone would come and say, “There is another route, it’s more beautiful and save.”  Then you would think, “I should have gone on this road a long time ago.”  You know my friends, millions of people made the confession over centuries – “It’s only since Jesus came in my life, that I have real purpose in my life.  Before that time, I was just like a wanderer without sense or direction.”  Advent Joy reminds us this morning that the coming of Jesus brought an inner joy that fills us each day with contentment.  With David we confess, “Apart from you I have no good thing.”  In Christ our lives are whole and filled with joy, even when we find ourselves in the wilderness from time to time.  Amen.                                                                                                                                            Rev. Willem H. van de Wall