Wrestling with Isaiah and John the Baptist

Recently in my Advent preparations I found myself reading Isaiah 35:1-10. It is one of the great classic Advent texts. The reader may well remember the lines. “The desert and the dry land will be glad; the wilderness will rejoice and blossom like the crocus.” (Isaiah 35:1 – I like the old KJV that it will blossom like a “rose”!) The passage closes with a powerful image: “The LORD’s ransomed ones will return and enter Zion with singing, with everlasting joy upon their heads. Happiness and joy will overwhelm them; grief and groaning will flee away.” (Isaiah 35:10) It is a wonderful passage but I always have to pause and re-read it in the context of Isaiah 34. Isaiah 34 is a passage of gloom and despair. It takes place in the wilderness and wasteland. We who would proclaim the gospel – good news – must remember the two go together. It reminds me of an old story I clipped out of a newspaper a couple of decades ago and used in conjunction with this passage. “A group of Lutheran ministers were meeting in a Chicago hotel and a fire broke out. The clerics came close to panicking as flames and smoke blocked their normal escape routes through the corridor to the elevators and stairway. They went out onto a balcony to escape the smoke but were ten stories up so there was no escape that way. Then one of the ministers braved the smoke and went through the room where they had been meeting until he found an exit to a fire escape. As one of the ministers said later, ‘One cannot imagine the feeling of relief in hearing and seeing this man come back to us and say, “This way out,” and to see him point the way of escape.’” The prophet Isaiah speaks to us; to our world on fire and in distress. Isaiah’s word rings through our advent preparation pointing us and all to the way at Christmas, pointing us to the Savior, and saying: “Here, this way out; this way to the prince of peace.” This is the good news we are called to share! Now place Isaiah next to John the Baptist. Do you recall the interchange between John’s disciples and Jesus? “Now when John heard in prison about the things the Christ was doing, he sent word by his disciples to Jesus, asking, ‘Are you the one who is to come, or should we look for another?’” (Matthew 11:2-3) This is, I think, the test of our preparations for Christmas. Do you and I trust the promise and believe the answer given to John the Baptist? Is this baby born the one or shall we look to another? Boldly Isaiah had stated that the answer will not lie within our meager human resources and powers but come from God. “He will come and save you.” (Isaiah 35: 4) The incredible promise from the Prophet Isaiah is answered in the person of this Jesus. And now, now the answer is to be lived. You and I are invited to sing the familiar carols and in the singing confess again the one in whom we put our hopes and trust. The way may not be clear, it often isn't, yet we know now the one who leads us. I invite you this Christmas season, in this time of preparation called Advent, to turn Him if you never have before. If for you Jesus is already truly Lord and Savior than I invite you to recommit yourself to trusting in His graceful love and magnificent leadership. Live the promise! The best present isn't under the tree but rather is the one who walks beside us this day and in all our tomorrows. “This, this is Christ the King, whom shepherds guard and angels sing; haste, haste, to bring him laud, the babe, the son of Mary.” (“What Child is This?”, Hymn No. 219, The United Methodist Hymnal)