Isaiah 35: 1-11 (Advent 3 – 2016)
“The Advent Joy of the Redeemed”
The days of December are not always good times for everyone. There are those people whose depression deepens while everyone else’s joy grows strong. The joy that they see in others is a heightened reminder that they find it difficult to find gladness of heart; at least in this life. According to their expectations of what happiness should be, life stinks! But the LORD turns that kind of thinking on its ear. In a few small phrases he reminds us - who believe in Christ - that a great life of joy exists to which we will all go! In the mean time, there are toils to be had, people to be loved, people to be missed, and crosses to bear! Between now and then we look forward to the picture Isaiah paints: “The Joy of the Redeemed.” We know that the LORD will strengthen us here for our journey home. We know the LORD will give us true joy at the end of this life. Through his Holy Spirit, and his attending angels, we will live in eternal peace with Christ and each other!
They Will Be Strengthened Here
“Strengthen feeble hands, steady the knees that give way; say to those with fearful hearts, “Be strong, do not fear; your God will come.”
From where does weakness, fear, despair and disappointment stem? Why do we let ourselves get so frustrated and depressed even during one of the most joyful times of the year? I believe it is because of a temptation, a desire, each one of us experiences through our life time: wanting heaven on earth. Pastors and theologian types call it the bad Theology of Glory. We want everything to go smoothly all the time. We want family problems to magically disappear. We want our physical ailments to disappear. We wish for civil negativity to cease. We hope for Church life to be absolutely perfect: without human strife and without financial challenges. We deeply yearn for things in this life to be absent of the results of sin. When they are not, our attitudes and moods turn ugly. We blame God and the people we love. We choose despair and fear!
Here we get sick. Here we fall into sin. Here we experience hate and persecution. Here we face the evils of Satan. Here we face death and its harsh reality. Here we experience the guilt that Adam and Eve knew the moment they ate from the tree. Here we are despised for hailing a Baby in a manger as our Savior from sin. Pastor and theologian types refer to this as the truthful Theology of the Cross.
Still, here we receive strength from our God. Even here he heals our diseases. Even here he thwarts the plans of evil: the destruction of the Devil’s scheming; the barring of the plans of unbelief around the globe. King Jesus is in charge in the world. Even here he gives comfort to those who face death. Even here he gives comfort to those who grieve over loved ones taken into glory. Even here he points us to the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. Even here he gives blessings to the preaching of his Word through the Church.
Through the waters of his Holy Word, God replenishes our sin-sickened hearts. Time with his Word and Sacraments; time with each other as his people; time with the LORD in his house is time well spent. His Holy Word announces his healing grace to us. Through his Church, God restores us day by day and gives us strength to live in this fallen world each day.
“Be strong, do not fear; your God will come with vengeance, with divine retribution he will come to save you.” The Lord’s redeeming comes with a vengeance on those things that can eternally destroy us. We are redeemed (purchased with the holy blood of Jesus). On the cross Jesus bears God’s vengeance against our sins, and against the devil himself. Divine and punitive damages not only are fulfilled on the cross, but the resurrection of Jesus destroys our final foe: death!
Isaiah pointed his hearers ahead. They were encouraged to think of the time when the Messiah would arrive and complete his work of restoring peace between God and mankind. That happened when Christ came into the world as a man. He humbled himself before God, to the point of death on the cross. But Isaiah was also encouraging his listeners - and us - to look further ahead to the Day when this world would pass away and God would begin the everlasting time of joy in heaven. Christ, who rose from death, has also ascended to his throne of Glory to remind us the heaven is a very real place.
They Will Live in Safety There
“A highway will be there; it will be called the Way of Holiness …. but only the redeemed will be there, and the ransomed of the LORD will return.” Isaiah fills this section with picture language to tell us how wonderful heaven will be. In true Hebrew poetry, Isaiah offers us multiple pairs of opposites.
One of these contrast pictures is actually used by Jesus in the Gospel lesson today to encourage John that Jesus is indeed the Messiah who was to come into the world. “The eyes of the blind will be opened and the ears of the deaf will be unstopped. Then the lame will leap like a deer and the mute tongue will shout for joy.” From Isaiah’s perspective he was foretelling the time when Jesus would perform many healing miracles as a true sign that he was the promised Savior from heaven.
This beautiful imagery also gives us a sense of the joy of the redeemed in heaven. There are no wheel chairs and crutches in heaven. There are no eye glasses and hearing aids in heaven. There are no hospitals beds, funeral homes and cemeteries in heaven. In the Joy of the Redeemed the ailments of this life and death itself will disappear!
Two other contrasting images help Isaiah to describe the Joy of the Redeemed. The one picture is the thought of a desert land being turned into a land of “bubbling springs”. In heaven there will be no need for irrigating hoses. Paradise will not have dramatic changes in climate. Think of what John tells us in the vision of Revelation7: “Never again will they hunger; never again will they thirst. The sun will not beat down on them, nor any scorching heat. For the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their Shepherd; he will lead them to springs of living water.” Jesus will be the only source of life we need in the Joy of the Redeemed!
The other overriding contrast is the absence of wickedness and danger. There will be a “highway of holiness.” Heaven and its joys will not be like it is here on earth. “They will neither harm nor destroy on all my holy mountain.” The evidences of danger, physical and spiritual, will not exist in the future glory of heaven. I personally believe that of all the things I look forward to the most is the absence of sin and evil. Can we begin to image the JOY of no devil, no sinful nature, no temptation, no guilt! What could be more joyful for the redeemed that to be eternally released from the spiritual harms that plague us throughout our earthy journey!
Almost 2 years ago, the Lord in his wisdom took my brother to that JOY during this time of year. As my family and I approach another anniversary of his funeral, I remember again that my brother was one of those people for whom Christmas time was a time of heightened depression and loneliness. Perhaps you are someone like that, or know someone like that. Take a moment this Advent season to pray for those who find joy difficult. If possible reach out to the lonely and depressed and share with them the reality of the eternal joy that will ours and theirs soon! The Lord through Isaiah promises that his Words of eternal joy will comfort the loneliest of the earth, even as we wait for his return. He also promises that heaven is a real place, a place of eternal and lasting joy that can never be taken away from his redeemed people! This gives us strength now. It will bring us joy and safety then!
“Be strong, do not fear; your God will come with vengeance,
with divine retribution he will come to save you.”
“Then they will enter Zion with singing; everlasting joy will crown their heads.
Gladness and joy will overtake them, and sorrow and sighing will flee away”!
Oh where shall joy be found? Where but on heavenly ground?
Where the angels singing With all his saints unite,
Sweetest praises bringing In heav’nly joy and light.
Oh that we were there! Oh, that we were there! (CW 34: 4) Amen.