As I have studied Isaiah 35 once again this year in preparation for Advent worship, it has come to me that water is at the very center of this vision Isaiah of the Exile offers from God to God’s people. Sure, there are a lot of other pieces to this vision: a desert in bloom, the mighty forests of Lebanon and Carmel, pastures of Sharon; not to mention people being healed or restored to wholeness and a mighty and holy highway being built. But right there in the middle of it all (v.7) is the very wet and wonderful reference to water: The burning sand will become a pool, the thirsty ground bubbling springs . . . even grasslands turn into wetlands. Water, water, water – water everywhere! It’s water that makes it possible for the desert to bloom, the forests to grow and pastures to flourish. Our bodies, when they are whole and functioning at their prime are over 60% water. Highways could not be built without water. Water seems to be the very central image to all of Isaiah 35. That was new to me this time around.
But it makes sense. To a people (in exile) who are longing for home while scratching out an existence in a dry and parched land, doesn’t it make sense that God’s image of redemption would be soaked in water? They are thirsting for this vision. Their thirst for home and things of home (the faith of home) cannot be slaked there in Babylon. They just need some water to quench their thirst, to renew their faith, to regenerate their hope and propel them forward.
It’s usually at about this point in December (mid-way into Advent) that I am reminded, in my work as a pastor, that not everyone is all giddy and goose-bumpy about Christmas.Many of the folks that I see in hospitals, nursing care centers, or even in the hallways of the church or streets of the community, are feeling a little something else. Some might describe it as a “blue” Christmas, or feeling like Scrooge or the Grinch. Others just tell you, in not so many words, that they are lonely, isolated, broken, hurting, bereaved, or lost. They are folks dwelling in self or other imposed exile for whom the glitz and glam of the season is more a reminder of where they are not. They (maybe you?) need a word of hope. God’s kingdom hope, given expression through Isaiah and shared with the exiles from Judah in Babylon; pointed the way to a future that would be a reversal of redemption for God’s people. They were invited to imagine a highway on which they could go home – safely, securely, joyfully and triumphantly. The poet-prophet pulled out all the stops as he shared God’s vision – streams in the desert, pools of refreshment, lush mountain forests, ample pasture land, and bodies that were fully functional and thriving with health.
But here’s the thing about God’s vision forward – it was a vision that called them “forward”. It wasn’t a return to way things used to be. It wasn’t back to the glory days (whenever they were). This is not some tour of Christmas past (a la Scrooge). No, God is in the midst of us calling us forward. God is calling us to be ever present to God’s presence – to occupy today and tomorrow and every day thereafter – no matter its barriers or challenges – in kingdom hope and promise.
“Water always wins.” Do you know that quote? It refers to the power of water to channel through mountain rock and deliver a beautiful canyon scene. It refers to the river’s capacity to cut a new course, perhaps even by-passing the bridge. It’s a reference to the persistent power of a drip of water, over time, to bore its way through a boulder of granite.
That’s the hope of the gospel. That’s the power of God’s presence – calling us forward, even when there may seem to be so many barriers around us. Redeeming us. Saving us. That, it seems to me, is something of what Isaiah saw and shared. Who do you know that needs to see or hear this good news?
This Sunday, December 11th
9:30 a.m. (EST) in person or on live stream.
“Water Always Wins”