Joy???

Date: 
Sunday, December 15, 2019
Scriptures: 
Isaiah 35:1-10

This Sunday of Advent is designated as:
Joy.

Once again, though, the reading from the Hebrew scriptures throws us back to the terrible time of the exile in Babylon.
The people were 900km from home.

That was taking the direct route.
Straight through scorching wilderness.
Risking days of no water.
The silent threat of dehydration and heat exhaustion.
Days, weeks of possible attack by wild animals

900 km from home.

A month of walking - with no certainty of where the next source of water might be, because there was no road.

This was the wilderness.
This was desert.

Or there was another possible route - two or three times as far. Two months, three months of steady walking on the edge of the wilderness.

A daunting trek for anyone.
And for anyone with any kind of handicap - the one without sight, the one without hearing, the one with difficulty walking, or even the one without speech - for anyone with any kind of a handicap, visible or invisible - - they are named by Isaiah: for them the journey would be harder.
For the old, for the very young, for the expectant mother - it was a difficult to imagine getting home. The ones, as he says, with weak hands or feeble knees.
For these, too, the journey would be harder.

For there was the wilderness ahead.
And the wilderness was very real
.....................................

This Sunday of Advent is designated as:
Joy.

But Isaiah brings us to the edge of the wilderness.
And there, let us contemplate our own situation.

It is not a wilderness of heat and drought.
You know if your individual life is currently on the edge of wilderness - or even in the middle of it.
You know the things that drain you dry, (or those close to you)
that exhaust you, that bring you to the edge.
Grief
Financial concerns
Family concerns
Employment concerns
Health burdens

We often try to ‘make happy’ – our public faces smiling “I’m fine, thank-you, how are you?”
But Isaiah does not pretend that wilderness does not exist.

We may choose our public face. Fine.
But within ourselves
and in conversation with God
let us name the elements of our wilderness,
if that is where we are,
or if we are on the edge of it.

........................................

This Sunday of Advent is designated as:
Joy.

How can I keep saying that when we are faced with a reading where the people are standing on the edge of a merciless wilderness?

Because Isaiah had a vision.
»»»»»»»
I have never seen desert wilderness tranformed.
But I have heard about it.
Perhaps it was something Isaiah had seen in the past - a parched land receiving rain, and suddenly
Suddenly the dry seeds germinate, flourish and soon blossom.

We read those words, addressed to those standing on the edge of the wildness -
The desert shall blossom
like crocus
Waters shall break forth,
streams in the desert,
the burning sand shall become a pool,
the thirsty ground springs of water
the grass shall become reeds and rushes.

Isaiah is pointing to a complete transformation of the wilderness.
Isaiah is pointing to God as about to bring something new, amazing and wonderful.
..... not to people who were already full of joy, who were confident...
But God’s promise was to those whose hearts were as dry and desolate as the many kilometres of wilderness had been.

I cannot tell you exactly what happened for the people who were in Babylon.
But we can be certain that they were buoyed by hope.
And we know, for certain, that they returned from Exile - returned home in spite of that expense of wilderness that had seemed ready to swallow them up.

So yes
Isaiah stands at the edge of a terrible wilderness.
And shares a vision of joy.

...............................................
This Sunday of Advent is designated as:
Joy.

How can I keep saying that when in our lives, or the lives of people close to us, are teetering on the edge of the wilderness, or already surrounded by it?

Because even if or when our own hearts are as dry and desolate as the many kilometres of wilderness, God’s promise is for us, and for those around us.

Not because God will help us pretend that our current wildernesses do not exist.
No, not that.

But because God will walk into the wilderness with us,
and will help us find a way forward.
And along the way, God will help us find where the burning sand is becoming a pool, so that we can find enough refreshment.
And along the way, God will bring us where the stream runs, so that we might find peace.
And along the way, we will find that if we follow closely to God, then we cannot go astray.

Not because there is no wilderness.
But because we know God,

therefore,
this Sunday of Advent is indeed designated as:
Joy.
................................................................................................

POSTSCRIPT:

Part of Isaiah’s good news is “the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped”, and he speaks of “make firm the feeble knees.”

This is part of our architectural and attitudinal challenge for our Côte project - as much as possible, faced with certain limitations, including space and finances, to make the space as universally accessible as possible for those who have any kind of visible or invisible handicap. We often think first of the access for those with wheelchairs and walkers, but don’t forget those with strollers for their infants.
We often think of washrooms accommodating a wheelchair, but that includes adjusting the height of the toilet.
But we have to go beyond mobility - what about those that Isaiah lists, the ones with issues of sight, of hearing. What about those with allergies - foods, or scents. What about those with certain psychological challenges, or particular learning styles?
One person who works in this field tells of a building with several steps to get in the door, and no other option. She was told “we don’t need to worry about making it accessible - no one in a wheelchair every comes here”. Of course they never came: they could not get in.

But we are called to be welcoming to all.
For those who experience many barriers to their participation in life, we are called to be co-workers with God in the creation of a highway - - so that people can freely participate in the activities of the congregation and in the activities of the community in our new space.