Bible Grace and peace to you, siblings in Christ.
Have you ever gone into a place after a disaster? A fire, flood, or tornado?
Maybe you were there to help, or to visit friends, or maybe it was home- before.
What was once familiar becomes a strange wasteland.
I’ve been lucky to not have my own home destroyed. I’ve seen pictures on the news, driven through areas after the storm. When I see a neighborhood filled with flood waters, I have a hard time imagining toddlers on their trikes and kids zooming on their bikes, up and down streets that are now a lake. When I see a house demolished- exploded- by a tornado, I can’t imagine sitting down at the dinner table.
But for the families who called those places home, what might be hardest to imagine is how the memory and the present reality could be one and the same place. How could it be that sacred, safe home is no more?
Once the shock wears off, and the fact that this is what it is hits, then how can one go forward?
You can look back into your memories and remember what once was- you can stand in the midst of the present destruction and see that it is so horribly different- but can you possibly believe there could be something good again?
That’s the place the people of God were at, when they heard these words of God through Isaiah, and when they came back in later generations to listen to them again. These texts give a vision forward. For the people of God who have been conquered by the Babylonian Empire, who lived in exile, everything they knew had been destroyed. Their homes, their government, even God’s temple– all destroyed.
How could they hope for a change for the better?
God gives them hope. God gives them an image to hold on to – and a promise that this image is a sign of their future:
“the desert shall rejoice and blossom”
“the burning sand shall become a pool, and the thirsty ground springs of water”
Isaiah’s images are of a creation restored, brought to greater life.
These images challenge the resignation of “it is what it is,” they don’t leave room for, “nothing’s going to change.” They promise, “God’s going to change it all!”
The defining feature of a desert is that it doesn’t rain much, and so it doesn’t blossom often. The energy is only put forth when there’s enough water, when it’s safe. A blossoming desert is a land trusting God will continue to provide in abundance what was once scarce, life.
Imagine – if we have a God who can turn the desert into a lake- what else might God be able to do? What could possibly be too big for our God?
Our God makes the lame to leap, the blind to see, the deaf to hear. Those who are resigned to life as it is will be surprised in joy. That’s the promise God has for us.
The question is- are we ready to be open to hope? Will we look to God, trusting that God will fulfill our longing for healing and life? Have we found the one worthy of our trust?
That’s the question John the Baptist had of Jesus. “Are you the one we’ve been waiting for, or should we look for another?” Jesus’ answer is to direct his attention to the signs around- just as promised through Isaiah, “the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them.”
In their time, people living with different abilities weren’t completely allowed in to society, so these “healings” really meant being brought to greater life when it certainly seemed impossible that their lives could change.
Jesus himself is the final sign – the final proof- that we can trust in God. There’s nothing our God can’t do. God raises the dead. Jesus is alive.
Since God can make the desolate places become gardens, the pushed aside brought back into community, the dead man come to life, we have hope that the brokenness in and around us can be restored to life.
We can look back and remember the way things were, look now and see it isn’t as we need it to be, and look ahead through God’s promise to the good future that will be.
We live in the middle times. Where are you in the midst of desolation? Where do you look back and remember the way things were- and feel pain at the way things are today? Maybe you can’t even remember a time when things were good.
Look out ahead. Listen to God’s promise. Can you see the new future God intends?
We’re here to help each other see. When we feel like the path forward is a wall of fog, we gather here to hear God fill in the details of that path forward. We gather together to rely on each other’s strength. We can be like John’s disciples, bringing news of the signs that God is at work to restore all things.
The wasteland will become a garden, the devastation a welcome home, the broken whole. May God grant you hope in the meantime.