Magazine article The Christian Century

A Desert in Bloom

Magazine article The Christian Century

A Desert in Bloom

Article excerpt

Sunday, December 16

Isaiah 35:1-10; James 5:7-10; Matthew 11:2-11

SINCE I LIVE near Lake Michigan, I take frequent walks along the lake and gaze out at the water, which stretches to the distant horizon. Sometimes it's still, sparkling in the sunlight, an oasis of calm soothing me on a hectic day. On other days, gray clouds gather overhead, waves crash against the breakers below my path, and water sprays high into the air. One day the water is a deep green, another day murky gray and yet another day dark blue--any of an array of hues and moods. My walks refresh and restore me, giving me new energy for work and family and play.

The water near my home contrasts sharply with the high plains of north central Wyoming where I spent several summers when I was a young woman. In that semiarid climate, I lived amid sagebrush and dust. Days were long and hot. When the rain did come, it was as a violent thunderstorm that passed through quickly and turned dirt paths into mud. But by the next day, the hot sun turned mud back to dust.

Isaiah describes a desert climate dry and barren as the northern Wyoming plains. In Isaiah's prophetic vision, waters gush forth in the desert, and the dry, parched land springs to life. In the early summer in the Wyoming plains, the cactus blooms, offering a brief glimpse of lush color, a promise of life in the midst of desolation. I used to hike in the Big Horn Mountains, up beyond the plains, and come upon meadows filled with wildflowers, crowded fields of vivid color. Isaiah sees the desert come alive this way, sees its blossoming abundance as new life announcing the glory and majesty of God.

The new life in the desert signals the presence and power of God. Those who are weary, enfeebled or fearful can take heart because God comes to save. This means healing and transformation in specific ways: sight for those who are blind, hearing for those who are deaf, speech for those who are mute. So great is the joy and so profound the healing that those who were lame now leap and those who were speechless now sing.

Isaiah's prophecy promises restoration to a captive people, and this prophecy is fulfilled in Jesus. John the Baptist has promised that one is coming who is greater than he. Then John is imprisoned. Hearing of Jesus, John wonders whether this is the one. Jesus doesn't answer directly, but instead lets his deeds speak. Through Jesus' ministry the blind receive their sight, the deaf hear, the speechless speak. Jesus' deeds inaugurate the reign of God as they fulfill Isaiah's promises.

We live, however, in the tension between the reign of God established by Jesus and the final fulfillment of that reign. …

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