The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad,
the desert shall rejoice and blossom;
like the crocus it 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.
Strengthen the weak hands,
and make firm the feeble knees.
Say 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.’
Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened,
and the ears of the deaf unstopped;
then the lame shall leap like a deer,
and the tongue of the speechless sing for
For waters shall break forth in the wilderness,
and streams in the desert;
the 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.
A 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 traveller, not even fools, shall go astray.
No 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.
And 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.
When John heard in prison what the Messiah
was doing, he sent word by his disciples and
said to him, ‘Are you the one who is
to come, or are we to wait for another?’
Jesus answered them, ‘Go and tell John
what you hear and see: 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. And blessed
is anyone who takes no offence at me.’
As they went away, Jesus began to speak to
the crowds about John: ‘What did you
go out into the wilderness to look at? A reed
shaken by the wind? What then did you go out
to see? Someone dressed in soft robes? Look,
those who wear soft robes are in royal palaces.
What then did you go out to see? A prophet?
Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet.
This is the one about whom it is written,
“See, I am sending my messenger ahead
who will prepare your way before you.”
Truly I tell you, among those born of women
no one has arisen greater than John the Baptist;
yet the least in the kingdom of heaven is
greater than he.
the grace, mercy and peace of God be with
us in the name of our risen Lord and savior,
Jesus Christ; Amen.
(During the children’s sermon I will
focus on the pictures on the front of the
bulletin … the top picture is of the
wilderness in southern Jordan through which
I travelled from Masada to Petra … rocks,
sand, barrenness. The bottom picture is from
the recent Super Bloom in California –
bright and colorful wildflowers. In Isaiah
there is the promise of new life bursting
forth in the wilderness. This is an illustration
of that happening. I have put a copy of the
bulletin cover at the end of this sermon.)
The question that John the Baptist’s
disciples asked Jesus on his behalf sort of
baffles us: “Are you the one to come,
or are we to wait for another?” Shouldn’t
he, of all people, know the answer to that?
After all, it was not long before his incarceration
that he was baptizing Jesus in the Jordan
and proclaiming him the one for whom everyone
has been waiting, the one who’s sandals
he was not worthy to carry. What has happened
to now make him unsure that Jesus is the messiah
… or maybe what has not happened? It
is possible that John didn’t quite understand
that the baptism by fire which Jesus was to
bring was going to come about in the way that
it was. Maybe as he continued to sit in a
first century prison cell he wondered when
this baptism by fire would happen, and HOW
it would happen. Maybe Johns expectations
included a revolution started by the Jesus,
the freedom-fighter who would not only liberate
his people from the Roman occupiers, but also
depose and banish the unfaithful King Herod,
who was the source of John’s incarceration.
With those expectations still disappointedly
unmet, John asks if Jesus is really the one.
The coming of Jesus into our lives can take
us by surprise when it happens in ways that
we do not expect. I am sure that, as Christians
we all live expectantly, knowing the promise
that Jesus made to break in and be revealed
in times of joy and in times of sorrow. But
when we only expect Jesus to come within our
own desires or wants then we may be blind
to him when he comes in other ways. Take the
example of that super bloom on the front of
your bulletin. It took people by surprise
last spring when it burst forth and blossomed
abundantly! The usual dusty brown hills of
Anza-Borrego State Park were splattered with
color upon color as poppies, primroses, lilies
and greenery burst forth from the ground.
With the floral growth came birds, insects,
caterpillars and other animals, all suddenly
discovering a new source of food and life.
It is a reminder that when the desert blooms,
it blooms abundantly, not half-heartedly;
not hidden in some lonesome valley. For a
few weeks that world was transformed into
a living Van Gogh landscape. It was the best
bloom since 2005.
But what are the conditions that lead up to
a super bloom like this? The first is prolonged
dormancy – seeds lying lifelessly just
under the surface of the soil for years, through
many seasons until, for some reason or another,
they decide to wake up at roughly the same
time after this long hibernation. It was also
helped by a long rainy season followed by
a particularly cold winter that locked the
moisture into the ground. Yes, it appears
that harsh, undesirable conditions for a prolonged
period of time seem to pave the way for the
bursting of new life in this desert.
The original hearers of Isaiah’s words
of hope and comfort had experienced that long
period of harsh undesirable conditions after
being conquered by Assyria and then Babylon.
Brutal military conquest followed by about
50 years in exile made these people ripe for
new life – they were ready, and Isaiah
shares God’s promise that the road home
will be filled with colorfully blooming flowers
in the desolate desert of southern Jordan.
Jesus’ answer to John was a reminder
of the many ways in which the people of his
day were ripe for new life as well. Indeed,
they were ruled by a pagan foreign power and
a despot on the throne of Judea, but Jesus
knew that his call as messiah was to be one
who heals and saves people in more important
ways than politically. He points out to John’s
disciples how he has fulfilled the expected
coming of the messiah – healing the
blind, lame, lepers, deaf and raising the
dead. Most importantly, the poor have good
news brought to them. They have been hurting
a long time – partly because of the
political situation and partly because of
the neglect from religious leaders. So, Jesus
burst on the scene and people are rejoicing
over the ways that he is healing and bringing
new life to all of them.
That is what rejoice Sunday is all about –
celebrating in advance the gifts of Jesus
who is the healer of the world. Being reminded
of the whole purpose of our preparations –
we are getting ready for the savior of the
world! Just as the people in Isaiah’s
day were promised a colorful, safe road home,
so the people of Jesus’ day were experiencing
someone from God who loved them perfectly.
And just as Jesus brings with him perfect
love, so we rejoice in the prospect of new,
unexpected life blossoming in the wildernesses
of our lives – usually in ways and in
times when we really do not expect it. That
is why we cannot lock into one was of thinking
that God will intercede into our lives …
because if we do, we may be blind to it when
God does intercede.
This coming Saturday, December 21, is the
day when the nighttime is the longest of the
year. Some congregations have “Blue
Christmas” services on that day, recognizing
that this holiday time when everyone around
us seems so, “happy,” can be a
very down and dark time. The fear and grief
can be at times paralyzing for some. That
is why we remember today that the reasons
for our rejoicing are much deeper and more
important than merely being happy. That, when
and how we may never expect it, God paints
our desolate landscapes with bright and glorious
colors. We may not know exactly how it will
happen, and that is okay. It is better than
okay, because when we admit that we are not
blinded to ways that Jesus does intercede
with profound love and joy, we will be more
able to recognize and receive Jesus’
love and share it with others.
With our eyes opened and expectations heightened,
may these darkest days of the year go by quickly,
and may we experience together the joy of
Jesus’ presence to bring love and peace
that blossom like the crocus, primrose and
lily. May it be so, in the name of Christ
our Lord; Amen.