The spirit of the Advent season is filled with the images of some of the most powerful figures in all of Scripture. This third week of Advent highlights the personality of one of these: the prophet Isaiah - whose words are full of expectation, hope and joy.
Isaiah was witness to one of the most turbulent periods in the history of Israel, from both the religious and the political standpoint. He has been called the "prophet of the nearness of God" who took an active part in the course of the daily events of his time. He supported the local government and religious leadership of the day, but that did not prevent him from denouncing the corruption that had encompassed them, and their obliviousness toward the poor and helpless. Affirming the principles of absolute justice and morality, and faith in God, he was fearless in his prophetic mission and almost poetic in his description of the coming Messiah.
Today Isaiah describes people traveling on, what one commentator calls, “the holy highway." Verses 8 and 9 (which are unfortunately omitted in our reading) describe their journey with a clear reference: "a highway shall be there, and it shall be called the holy way… the redeemed shall walk there."
God's people were dispersed. Isaiah isn’t speaking just to the exiled in Babylon; but to all those scattered throughout the world. God is bringing them back and nature is sharing in their joy. "The desert and parched land will exult..." Indeed, nature is transformed from a desert wilderness into a blooming garden so that the travelers will be refreshed and delighted on the journey itself.
The "glory of the Lord" is to be made known to the people because God has intervened and has prepared a "holy highway" for their trip. He has come to save them. “Then will the eyes of the blind be opened, the ears of the deaf be cleared; then will the lame leap like a stag, then the tongue of the mute will sing.”
There are not many scenes in our world that are blooming and strewn with flowers. The "desert and the parched land" have nothing to exult over - yet. Too many people in the world live in an emotional, physical or spiritual wasteland. Many are vulnerable, hurt and frightened. The voices of those around us paint pictures of doom and gloom - and they have ample reason to do so. But Isaiah's words suggest strongly that all the evidence isn't in yet. There's more to the picture than we can see.
We are an Advent people who live in hope and trust in God's promises. But we are also a continuation of God’s presence in the world. What Jesus says to John the Baptist in the Gospel about himself and his ministry of healing to the blind, lame, and the lepers is now up to us to continue. The Advent scriptures ask us to live the mystery of Christ in our time.
Jesus lived his life proclaiming a vision of God's truth as it applies to human activity and relationships - proclaiming this truth publicly and courageously, and in the face of constant threat and opposition. His mission was one of service to the poor and the desolate, of comforting His people - a proclamation that their slavery to sin and death has come to an end. It was a call to rejoice, for like a shepherd feeding his flock, the glory of the Lord was truly revealed.
What he did was confront the world's evils through healing and forgiveness. Isaiah's prophecy was fulfilled when people met Christ, "Here is your God… who comes to save you." Now we are to "go and tell" what we have seen and heard in Christ. We do this by: giving sight to those who cannot see; by enabling the physical and emotional crippled; communicating with those who are disenfranchised by church and society; finding ways to give value to human life and in so doing become, like Jesus, good news to the poor and oppressed.
But we, too, live in turbulent times. We can each stand incredulous and helpless in the face of all that is happening at the moment. We can easily ask ourselves: "What is it, really, that we can do?"
We are, indeed, an Advent people. But we are also a messianic people who pray today to be faithful signs to the world that the ancient longings of an exiled people have been fulfilled in Jesus Christ. We try to follow Jesus’ example so that we can also say to others what Jesus said to validate his witness, “Go and tell others what you hear and see, the blind see... ” People will never believe us until they can see our lives as authentic sign of Jesus’ on-going presence in the world: until they see us guiding the footsteps of the blind; carrying the crippled to places where they can receive help; finding ways to help the voice of the poor be heard.
If each of us can do this, we might then contribute to a critical mass, which might just tip the balance of the global scales towards harmony and peace rather than discord, division and irretrievable destruction of the planet as we know it.
Advent calls each of us to transformation: to resist the crass, cultural emphasis on frenzied purchasing, partying and noise - and instead foster a time of quiet and contemplation... to step out on a path towards peace and the birth of a new level of human consciousness – which is what the birth of Jesus the Christ called us to 2,000 years ago. The nature of this path - this "holy highway" - what it will demand and what we will encounter along the way, is laid out in graphic detail in the readings for the four Sundays in Advent..
Our God is the God of life, abundance, deliverance and joy. That's the Good News that consoles us, gives meaning to our lives and challenges us to cry out: “Be strong, fear not; Here is your God.”