A reading from the Prophet Isaiah.
The desert and dry land will become happy;
the desert will be glad and will produce flowers.
Like a flower, it will have many blooms.
It will show its happiness, as if it were shouting for joy.
It will be beautiful like the forest of Lebanon,
as beautiful as the hill of Carmel and the Plain of Sharon.
Everyone will see the glory of the LORD
and the splendor of our God.
Make the weak hands strong
and the weak knees steady.
Say to people who are frightened,
“Be strong. Don’t be afraid.
Look, your God will come,
and he will punish your enemies.
He will make them pay for the wrongs they did,
but he will save you.”
Then the blind people will see again,
and the deaf will hear.
Crippled people will jump like deer,
and those who can’t talk now will shout with joy.
Water will flow in the desert,
and streams will flow in the dry land.
The burning desert will have pools of water,
and the dry ground will have springs.
Where wild dogs once lived,
grass and water plants will grow.
A road will be there;
this highway will be called “The Road to Being Holy.”
Evil people will not be allowed to walk on that road;
only good people will walk on it.
No fools will go on it.
No lions will be there,
nor will dangerous animals be on that road.
They will not be found there.
That road will be for the people God saves;
the people the LORD has freed will return there.
They will enter Jerusalem with joy,
and their happiness will last forever.
Their gladness and joy will fill them completely,
and sorrow and sadness will go far away.
This is the Word of the Lord.
I must admit that I was somewhat tempted to post the reading for today without comment. Just let the text stand on its own. This text is among the most beautiful pictures of life in the Kingdom of Heaven in the whole of the Scripture. It paints for us a picture of life. It paints a picture of life lived to the fullest (see John 10:10).
Yet, as I read and reread the text for today, I found myself thinking of things that are not like the Kingdom of Heaven. I found myself thinking of things that are—like us—waiting for Christmas. Things that are longing for Messiah. Things that are groaning for a new King.
This text is a prophecy from Isaiah. Speaking to a people who are in exile. A people needing to be rescued from their captivity.
We see a fulfillment of this prophecy in Jesus. In our Gospel reading for this week (Matthew 11:2-11, to be posted on Wednesday), we read about John the Baptizer’s disciples coming to Jesus to find out if he is indeed the one who had been promised—the one who would set all things right. Jesus doesn’t give a direct answer. He merely tells them to look around and see. Take account of those lives that have been changed. The blind that could now see. The lame that could now walk. The deaf that could now hear. The dead that were now living again.
“The Kingdom,” Jesus tells us, “is near.”
What I find frustrating about this passage, and the passage in Matthew 11 is that there were still blind people and deaf people and lame people and dead people. There were still poor that had not heard the good news of Jesus. The Kingdom had come. But, not in it’s fullness. Pain and suffering and hurt and sadness still existed even as Jesus is telling John’s disciples to look around them.
And, it still exists today.
Last Saturday evening, in the city of İstanbul, there was a football match (soccer match for my American readers). Beşiktaş was taking on Bursaspor. About two hours after the match (which Beşiktaş won 2-1), two bombs were detonated. One a car bomb, the other a suicide bomber. 38 people were killed. 155 others were injured.
Pain. Suffering. Destruction.
Still exists today.
And, in these dark moments, it’s hard to see, and harder to say that the Kingdom of Heaven is here.
But, it is.
And, it is not.
See, the Kingdom of Heaven is one of the great mysteries of our faith. It arrived in resounding glory on an evening in a sleepy little village in a land controlled by an occupying force.
An angel proclaiming, “Salaam alaikum!”
Peace be upon you!
But, that was not the end of the story. Go into all the world and preach the Gospel of the Kingdom, this Baby—now a Man raised from the dead—would tell His followers.
Go and proclaim that there will someday be streams in the desert. Flowers in the desolation. Pain and suffering will be replaced by life lived to the fullest.
On the front page of one of the Turkish newspapers this morning was a photo of a black wrought iron fence. At the base of this fence there were bright red roses being laid. Honoring the memory of those who were slain outside that football stadium in Istanbul.
Yet it reminded me of this passage. Flowers in the desert, the prophet called them. Even in a land where the majority of the people know nothing about the Kingdom of Heaven, there are still places to look and see that the Kingdom is here.
And, there is even more to remind us that it is a long way from its fulfillment.
That is what Advent is about. A stark reminder to us that even though we ended the Liturgical Year a few short weeks ago by proclaiming that Christ is the King, we begin it by waiting for the King to come. We ended the year by enthroning the new King in His Kingdom. And we being it by wondering when he new King and his Kingdom will come.
In the desert, a flower will bloom.
And then another.
Until the day comes when the desert is full of flowers.