Tuesday, December 17, 2019

Advent 3A

Isaiah 35:1-10

1The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad,
      the desert shall rejoice and blossom;
like the crocus 2it 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.

3Strengthen the weak hands,
      and make firm the feeble knees.
4Say 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."

5Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened,
      and the ears of the deaf unstopped;
6then 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;
7the 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.

8A 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.
9No 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.

10And 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.

Gaudete! Rejoice! And don't stop rejoicing!

Gaudete, Latin for "rejoice," is a traditional name for the third Sunday of Advent. We've discussed the blue of hope being the new color for Advent. When churches have them, rose vestments and paraments are a tradition that replaces blue for the third Sunday of Advent and the Fourth Sunday in Lent. Both those Sundays feature scripture readings with a slightly more upbeat mood than the other Sundays of those seasons.

Two weeks ago on the first Sunday of Advent, the church began a New Year of grace. We've talked about signs, symbols, and colors that point to meanings beyond the apparent surface. Just as we can read a label or sign or poster that tells about a product or a location or an event (but that isn't the product, event, or place itself), we can interpret colors and symbols. Although we still need to heed John the Baptist's call to repent, to turn around in a direction different from where we've been going to get ready for God in our midst, more than anything, Advent is a time of hope-filled expectant waiting for Jesus' arrival in our midst. Is waiting for something not extremely counter-cultural in a world that wants everything yesterday? Surprise that I didn't say it on Sunday, but in Spanish esperar and its cognates have all three meanings of wait, expect, hope.

For this third Sunday of Advent we continue Old Testament/Hebrew Bible readings from the first part of the long book of Isaiah. We sometimes refer to the primary author of this first section that comprises chapters 1 through 39 as Isaiah of Jerusalem, though style and content indicate at least one additional author. As we observed last week, these inspired words came into the southern kingdom at a time of political, economic, and cultural violence and uncertainty. Against God's constant counsel "do not fear," everyone had plenty of reasons to be frightened. Like last week's Isaiah 11:1-9, this week we receive pure promise, sheer proclamation of grace, mercy, healing, and a shalom-filled future. This announcement is gospel. It is good news!

Like last week's scripture, today's word of life reveals the previousness of God—the truth that God always goes before us before leading us there, the fact God always waits for us (just as we imagine waiting for God to show up during Advent).

Water Is Life!

As the global north moves closer and closer to winter solstice with its longest night and shortest day, Isaiah's visions of water in the wilderness, abundant blooms in the desert, tell us in spite of surface evidence, God heals, redeems, and restores all creation—not solely human creatures. Not long ago Southern California experienced a relatively rare spring super bloom that happened because drought of historical proportions and rain of historical proportions converged.

Living in a fire zone, we know some seeds need to be seared by fire in order to bloom. We've seen in person – or at least in pictures – verdant (I still think verdant means green?) new life sprouting across the expanse of a burn scar. Some flower bulbs cannot bloom until they've first experienced winter. Especially in colder environments where people may have a chilly outbuilding or basement, it's possible to force bloom flower bulbs including daffodils, amaryllis, jonquils, tulips, crocuses, hyacinth, grape hyacinth, iris, narcissus. Those bulbs contain everything necessary for new life within them! That is, they contain almost all the essentials for new life. Everything except winter. Humans create winter for them, so then they can burst into life and flower.

These creation-centered texts are about the natural creation itself, and also form a metaphor for the course of our human lives with its spiritual, physical, social, and intellectual growth. In addition, we can look at them as "signs" that point beyond their apparent surface for parallels in the built environment: houses, office buildings, shopping malls, all constructed to current earthquake and fire codes; well-maintained streets, roads, airports that lead from one place to another, that carry vehicles and permit exchange between parties; waterways that need care in order to serve the greater good. In other words, we can read these texts and most of scripture on comprehensive spiritual, social, and structural levels.

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