15 December 2013

God of the great reversal – pathway to wholeness

Passage: Isaiah 35:1-10

ISAIAH 35:1-10; MATTHEW 11:2-11, LUKE 1: 46-55

We continue on our Prophetic Pathways journey … once again tapping into God’s wisdom for us through the Book of Isaiah.

Today marks the third Sunday of Advent.  Many centuries ago, back in the Middle Ages, it was known as Gaudete Sunday or Joy Sunday.  You see, “Gaudete” is Latin for “rejoice”.

Back then, Advent was far more like Lent.  During Lent, before God, we enter into a time of self-examination, we take stock of where our Christian discipleship is or isn’t.  It’s a time of penitence and repentance.

So in the Middle Ages, with Advent being like that, Gaudete Sunday … Joy Sunday was conceived as a day for things to be more upbeat ... in a very Middle "Agesie" way, I might add! So in the middle of Advent, the Mass would begin with "Gaudete in Domino semper" (“Rejoice in the Lord always") from Philippians 4:4. That tradition continues right up to today, as we’ve lit the “joy” candle on our advent wreath and prayed and sung accordingly.

Do some reflection on our readings for today, and another theme might emerge - alongside Joy Sunday. You see, perhaps we could call this Sunday, Reversal Sunday.


All of our readings for today fit that theme. What am I talking about?


In our readings this third Sunday of Advent, what we’re waiting for is nothing less than what Mary sang long ago-- the reversal of the powers that be, the undoing of every oppression, the feeding of all who hunger, and the elevation of all left out or shut out of power. Mary’s soul "magnifies the Lord" and her spirit "exults" in God our Saviour, but again because of major reversals she confidently expects God to initiate with the coming birth of her child ... the Christ-child.


And then we wait with Isaiah for springs to emerge in deserts, and highways where the path seemed impossible to navigate, leading exiles home. We wait with John the Baptizer—for an apocalypse, a dramatic realization of God’s reign here and now ... another series of reversals - as blind people see, lame people walk, the poor get good news (for a change!).  Reversals here, there and everywhere!

The people in exile in Babylon to whom this prophetic song was delivered were in a real bind.  On the one hand, they were making their homes in a strange land, just as God had instructed them to do, but they wanted this exile to end. But no end appeared in sight.


So when the prophecy we read today was delivered, it must have seemed at best like a crazy dream.  The Syrian Desert turned into a glade? How can a people be strong and not afraid when they’ve been uprooted and now are doing the best they can to survive in a land where their language, their religion and their cultural customs make little sense? And a highway built from Babylon to Jerusalem? No one goes from Babylon straight back to Judea for good reason—it’s a desert!

Deserts are a commonplace in the scriptures - Old Testament and New. Not surprising because that's the geography if the region. When Dale and I travelled to the Holy Land this time three years ago we were taken by the immensity and starkness of the desert landscape.

The people of God needed to travel through deserts to get to their 'promised land'. Terrain like this was often full of trouble and hardship.

Desert then became an image of testing and searching.

So where does John the Baptizer begin his preaching ministry? The desert!

Where does Jesus go to pray before beginning his ministry? The desert.

For Isaiah, the desert is that wilderness place God will reclaim and recreate. Instead of being a place of threat and danger, it will become a place of colour, creativity and safety. This dry place will be thoroughly watered.  Life will come from desert places.


Christ himself picks up on this desert image in the New Testament. He tells the Samaritan woman that he'll give her a 'spring of living water gushing up to eternal life'.

One writer reflects that "In some ways, Advent is meant to be a little 'desert' time before the joy and excess of Christmas.

It's a mini-journey for us to reflect upon, and see our need for God, to recognize that it's God who gives life". That's perhaps the upside of "desert".

There's also the flip side ... the downside. " 'Desert' can also be an image of the difficult times in our lives when we feel alone; we're not at all sure of where we are going". We indeed talk about going through a 'desert time' ... a dry patch.

We see enough images on our TV screens of deserts and famine to remind us how harsh and demanding deserts are. We're so lost in the desert times of life, we lose our awareness of God ... our need for the living water that is God, in Jesus Christ.

Our Advent Isaiah reading; our reading from Matthew 11; our Magnificat reading from Luke 1 all remind us to live in hope; to have courage, to see flowers blooming in unlikely places, to believe God is with us on our journey ... on that winding, difficult desert pathway.

Crazy, simply crazy. Such reversals are impossible!

Unless they’re not. Unless, that is, this is the word of God.

And the promise of scripture is that if we're crazy or expectant enough, to believe that… we'll start to see it; as one writer puts it, we'll "be standing on tiptoes, excitedly peering into its reality drawing near".

Folks, it could be said that in all these readings, we're not actually waiting for Christmas. In fact, the readings are about waiting, our waiting in hope for the fullness of God’s reign to be realized in our midst. That's the lens we need to receive these readings through.

That's precisely what we pray each time we pray The Lord's Prayer. We pray, "Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth, as in heaven".


On this third Sunday in Advent, hear God’s word of hope to you.  God is God of the great reversal. 3

Through our Great Reversal God ...

the eyes of the blind shall be opened, the ears of the deaf unstopped;  the lame shall leap like a deer, the tongue of the speechless sing for joy ... waters shall break forth in the wilderness, and streams in the desert;

Through our Great Reversal God ...

the proud are scattered, the powerful brought down from their thrones, the lowly are lifted up, the hungry with good things ... the rich away empty.

Through our Great Reversal God ...

the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them.

How good is that! How good is that!

God of the great reversal is God of the universe. This is reversal of cosmic, blockbuster proportions ... the promise and hope of renewal ... of wholeness and healing and well being and shalom to all creation.

Yet, God of the great reversal has implications for you ... and for me. We are loved by our Great Reversal God, suggested Augustine, as if we were the only one on the planet to love.

So ... you who are walking through desert times, lift up your heads ... open your hearts. Christ comes.

Hope, healing and wholeness is at hand.  Christ comes. Help is on it's way. Hope is on the way! It is just ahead of us on the prophetic pathway we take - all the way to Christmas and the coming of the Christ, Saviour of the world; healer of hearts ... yours and mine; the bringer of wholeness - to you - to me - to all creation - if we open our lives - our hearts to this reversal God.

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. (Isa. 35:10)


Sometimes I am a desert, Lord.
I am dry and hard and difficult;
nothing will grow in me – no good idea or kind thought.
Sometimes I am like rock –
I offer no comfort and can find no comfort in myself.
Heal me, Lord, with holiness like streams.
Restore me. Let me rest in you.
Fill me with blessed space and let me wait,
attentive for whatever you might say. Amen.