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.” (Isaiah 35:1 – 2)

The themes of Advent and the Advent candles vary slightly depending on the traditions of one’s faith circle. You cannot go amiss, however, it you make your themes hope, peace, joy, love. The first week I directed our attention to hope. The passages for this lectionary year seemed to point strongly (at least to me) to hope for the first week/first Sunday of Advent. The next week I tried to point us to peace but hope “lingered on” in my thinking. This week, joy, is the theme and the Old Testament passage starts us out by prophesying joy for the called and chosen people of God. But I had to wonder if humanity today (as a whole and corporate body) has joy. It seems to me that if joy is going to be in one’s heart, hope and peace need to set the foundation. And, sadly, hope and peace seem to be a precious and oft times rare commodity these days.

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.” (Verses 3 – 4)

The Hebrews to Israelites to Israelites/Judahites to Jews looked with great hope to Yahweh coming and sorting things out in their favor. Isaiah wrote/spoke to a people that had little hope and who had “peace” taken from them by the enemies who surrounded them. If that sounds familiar to you, beloved reader, then you can appreciate the fervor and desperation that the called and chosen people of God felt.

“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.” (Verses 5 – 10)

My reflections lead me to think about Jesus (the adult Jesus) opening the scroll to this passage, reading it, and declaring that in him/because of him it has been fulfilled. It seems as if when you hold on to hope for so long it becomes an endurance test to remain strong and undaunted in the face of your struggles and turmoil. It can be hard to relax and be assured that hope is fulfilled so that you can move on to peace and then experience joy.

Moreover, when hope is fulfilled but not in the way you expect it, or even demand it, it is hard to let peace fill your heart. But without peace, joy is hard pressed to take a foothold. Do you think that is why the people of Jesus’ time and in his village could not see him as hope personified and peace that would quiet their fears? Jesus did not come “with vengeance, with terrible recompense” in the way that the Jews of his time could understand. In fact, with some upholders of the law he came at them “with vengeance, with terrible recompense”. As Jesus’ disciple said, “This teaching is hard! Who can accept it?”

When you demand that circumstances change before you believe that hope is fulfilled and peace has come, it is hard to know hope and peace in your heart. But I tell you, with the coming of the infant Jesus, hope is fulfilled and peace now reigns! So let there be joy! Selah!