The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad, the desert shall rejoice and blossom; like the crocus it shall blossom abundantly, and rejoice with joy and singing. The glory of Lebanon shall be given to it, the majesty of Carmel and Sharon. They shall see the glory of the LORD, the majesty of our God. Strengthen the weak hands, and make firm the feeble knees. Say to those who are of a fearful heart, “Be strong, do not fear! Here is your God. He will come with vengeance, with terrible recompense. He will come and save you.” Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; then the lame shall leap like a deer, and the tongue of the speechless sing for joy. For waters shall break forth in the wilderness, and streams in the desert; the burning sand shall become a pool, and the thirsty ground springs of water; the haunt of jackals shall become a swamp, the grass shall become reeds and rushes. A highway shall be there, and it shall be called the Holy Way; the unclean shall not travel on it, but it shall be for God’s people; no traveler, not even fools, shall go astray. No lion shall be there, nor shall any ravenous beast come up on it; they shall not be found there, but the redeemed shall walk there. 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.
What is more fearful? Death? Or a meaning-less life?
As we look ahead into the future, we hear a voice from long ago – a call from Isaiah of the future Christ ushers in – a future that disturbs. Disturbing? Really? Many of us read these prophetic passages of Christ’s coming into the world and we like them. They don’t disturb, do they? The truth is that this passage is deeply disturbing to those of us who are comfortable. God seems to always afflict the comfortable. Look at every story of God’s dealing with humanity in scripture from Adam and Eve, to Noah, to Abraham, to Joseph, to David, to Paul – God’s word causes quite a stir because it always challenges our view of the world.
Isaiah says, “Say to those who are of a fearful heart, “Be strong, do not fear! Here is your God. He will come with vengeance, with terrible recompense. He will come and save you.” That’s not disturbing? This is exactly what happened to Ebenezer Scrooge when he was visited by the Spirit of Christmas Yet to Come. Confronted with the disturbing truth, Scrooge sees the future of his unchanged life. His grasping, greedy, and relation-less life ends with no fanfare and no compassion. The Spirit takes him to a back alley shop where a woman is selling Scrooge’s bed curtains. Scrooge hears her say, “If he wanted to keep ’em after he was dead, a wicked old screw, why wasn’t he natural in his lifetime? If he had been, he’d have had somebody to look after him when he was struck with Death, instead of lying gasping out his last there, alone by himself.”
The consequence of an unreflective life lived only for ourselves is highly disturbing.
And this is our danger; most of us are unaware of how selfishly we live our lives. Many of us are so comfortable with how the world works and our place in it, that we have learned to care for only those who are like us!
Barbara Brown Taylor, in her book An Altar to the World, writes, “We have just enough religion to make us hate one another but not enough to make us love one another. Because we are human, which is to say we are essentially self-interested, we are always looking for ways to add a little more authority to our causes, to come up with better reasons to fight for what we want than to just say, “Because I want it, that’s why.” If we can convince ourselves that God wants it too – even if that means we cast God in our own image so we can deny the image of God in those not like us – than we are free to harm others not for our own reasons but in the name of God, which allows us to feel holy about it instead of feeling bad.”
Look again at Isaiah’s word’s – look how he crafts the image of Christ’s coming into the world. Total redemption, total transformation, total reconciliation – not just in the way you and I define it for our self-interested personal spirituality, but for the entire world: Isaiah says that when the Messiah comes, every person, every tribe, every race, in every situation will be redeemed and recreated – the blind seeing, the deaf hearing, the lame leaping… this passage speaks of waters breaking forth into the deserts…a highway of God where the unclean may not travel.
God will reset everything to the original default settings – a total RE-CREATION where the poor and the hungry have a seat at the table with the rich and sated.
This is disturbing because the person we deem least worthy to share a meal with will be seated at God’s table with us. This is disturbing because the person we refuse to forgive will be forgiven. This is disturbing because the person we hate is the person God loves. This is disturbing because our constructed order to the universe will be shattered and God’s order to the universe will be the only image.
This is disturbing because scripture says if we don’t usher in this new reality – if we fight it or limit it or try to sustain it – we will be just like Scrooge staring straight at his own tomb. Our names will be on the tombstones in front of us if we remain totally self-interested and neglect living in God’s pure love and mercy (and share it with the world). This is disturbing because Jesus gives many images of what happens to those who don’t get this message and work toward this end – trust me it is not pretty – it is filled with fire, weeping, and gnashing of teeth. But the good news is we can change.
So I ask you once again…What is more fearful? Death? Or a meaning-less life?
For many of us, our own names are on the tombstones of life staring back at us. This is the result of living life in our own self-interest. How will we respond when we see our names written on the marble in front of us? What will our response be? How will we live our lives going forward?
Will we continue the same? Or will we work with God, ushering in Christ’s Kingdom and be re-created fully in God’s image and live a life of love?