Isaiah 35:1-10: Our Wilderness Desolation into God’s Saving Sanctuary

The desert, a barren and harsh environment can teach us much. Its keen stillness can supply us with moments of clarity in lives too often swirling with chaos. Unforgiving sun and relentless sands can, likewise, lead us to pause and ponder the struggles we face. So Isaiah does in his prophetic poetry while tapping into Israel’s past wanderings in deserts wild.

The wilderness is unpredictable, where danger and mystery divert in dance. A chance engagement can create a thrilling escapade or a moment of despair. An unexpected turn of fate might leave the most experienced hiker needing help. A momentary lapse of judgment may consign a person: lost, alone, and helpless. Many tales abound of hapless adventurers who wandered into areas unknown, later forced to rely on others to rescue them.

The stark desert landscape can symbolize the deep troubles we face in our lives. Its expanse and harshness remind us—life’s curves and bends can assault us with adversities and struggle—hardships, in no way metaphorical!

Oh, the havoc and waste of our soul, a place so dark and cold,
A land of trial and anguish, leaving us empty, not whole.
Such are the burdens we bear, with a heaviness of heart,
Of unyielding sorrow, keeping us from a new start.

The incarnate Christ breathes life into our rattled and ruined hearts, enlivening our landscape, so crestfallen. To take in Prophet Isaiah’s words, with “vengeance and terrible recompense,” to free and secure you, unleashing life into your wilderness. So Isaiah wrote, describing God’s people during their desert escape and migration:

Where water trickles scarce with no crops in the ground,
Traversed by animals where dangers abound.
Surreal shadows obscure as sands drift away,
And the sun burns, savage the entire day.

Yes, God’s chosen experienced those distresses, yet let us not linger in such sorrows since:

Amid the bleakness of a barren land
Where their hope ran dry, God’s caring hand
Reached out to His people enveloped in fear,
Reassuring them He is always near.

God unveiled sustenance for His new-formed nation,
Within their agony of raw desolation.
A cloud and fire, and light in the wilderness,
He guided them through dangers no man could guess.

Let’s take in more from Isaiah. The lonely expanses of wasteland will stir with life and erupt in jubilant accolades of praise! Oh, Isaiah doesn’t report the people of God will rejoice in the desert. No, nature itself will reverberate, cascading in celebration, thrumming with a song of gladness. Out will creation burst in songs of exaltation, extolling its Maker in exuberant expression, for only God can make the barren places rejoice.

Every day:

We brave countless dangers, each of which might be our doom,
For this world we inhabit swarms with sin’s gloom.
In a nature so wild, to our days filled with strife,
We navigate risk as we journey through life.

The dangers we face are a convoluted entity,
Demanding physical, relational, and mental agility.
Emotional and tangible,
Extensive and consequential,
The challenges they pose
Are many and manifold.

Do we not also suffer from personal struggles, regrets, and embarrassments in the harsh wilderness of our inner lives? Buried deep are looming secrets, the rocky paths of our turmoil, of untold sins and stories. In these internal hinterlands, hide guilt and shame.

Often, we sense our helplessness, lost in our struggles, desperate for deliverance. The wilderness of sin encircles us while our sinful nature looms inside us. These collude and press us hard, striving to pull us further astray. Can someone retrieve us from our perils and pluck us, a far-away people, from our dismay? Yes, we need rescue and release!

So, God vows to descend in His mercy and grace,
To vindicate us, those robbed of their place.
The wilderness, He’ll transform, a sight to behold,
And bring life out of death, with glories untold.

Deep valleys will lift, and the mountains will bloom,
As this glorious promise rises amid our bleak gloom.
The lame will leap, and their voices will sing,
Freed from the bonds of Satan’s sting.

Jesus fulfilled those prophecies, in part, during His life and ministry. Your Lord pointed this out to John’s messengers in today’s Gospel. “Go, tell John what you discover and perceive. The blind receive sight, the crippled walk, lepers become clean, deaf ears open, the dead arise, and the life-giving Word goes forth to the poor.”

On the Last Day, Jesus will return. Resplendent in glory, He’ll descend and fulfill all His promises, heal us from our afflictions, and create a new heaven and earth. Peace will abound, and harmony will inhabit every corner. Death itself shall bow before Him, forever vanquished from our midst.

The core of Isaiah’s promise is: “Those of fearful heart, ‘Be strong; fear not! Behold, your God will come with vindication, with divine retribution, and he will save you.’” The Lord will swoop with fury, unleashing wrath upon His enemies—death, sin, and Satan (and those in league with them). The Lord’s absolute and unquestioned power isn’t cheerful news for that evil triad. Remember, we are never again adversaries of the Almighty since Christ Jesus came, our sins to atone.

Baptized into His death and resurrection, we now live,
Believing in Him, in God’s only Son, who grants life and forgives.
God’s vengeance against His foes is wondrous for us all,
A relief and rescue from them in His heavenly call.

Today, because Christ’s atoning sacrifice reconciled us to God, He is with us in our lonely places. Wherever we may wander, His love is our constant companion. Unfailing and unwavering, His presence encourages us, though darkness clouds our pathways. Through every trial, His comforting grace empowers you and me to be strong.

In this Advent season, as we prepare to celebrate Christ’s birth, let us recognize the extraordinary power He brings. The babe lying in a manger, frail with human bone and flesh, is no ordinary infant. No, He is the promised Serpent-Crusher who will battle sin, death, and the devil. In His resurrection and ascension, He will prevail victorious over His enemies at the right hand of God the Father.

“Today,” Hebrews 2:8 pronounces, “we do not yet discern everything in subjection to [Christ].” In our sinful state, if He showed Himself to us in His full, unveiled radiance, we will die, not live. So, He still comes to us, disguised in Word and Sacrament to save us.

Ah, but when our King of Kings returns, His rule and reign will be unmasked for everybody to behold. The shimmering force of His glory will shine forth everywhere. Those covered by His righteousness will revel in the warmth of His mercy, experiencing the fullness of His love and grace surging over them. At last, He comes to restore His beloved creation, so His redeemed can celebrate with cheerful hearts.

The Advent season is for us to ponder, anticipating Jesus’ birth and return. In today’s reading, don’t miss how Isaiah offers us an incredible invitation to do this. The wilderness calls out in joyous song, expecting the arrival of its Messiah. In vivid imagery, the desert will be glad, bursting into life with blooming flowers and lush vegetation. After, Isaiah describes God’s people gathering in an unending gladness lasting forever.

Today, as we delight in the marvels of this still-broken creation, we catch glimpses of God’s recreated paradise awaiting us. Such profound and genuine whisperings can evoke deep and meaningful emotions, surpassing the fleeting sentiments of many secular Christmas songs. How can we not lean forward to the future with hope and anticipation?

A new world will be, unlike today.
A place of peace, splendor, love, and joy.
No sighs of sorrow, frail hands to dismay,
But everlasting bliss and tranquility to enjoy.

No blindness crippling the aged and old.
Gone is the deafness to silence their song,
No lameness to make them stumble and fold,
Nor muteness to tame the tongues of the strong.

Heavenly rest, not wild beasts on the chase,
But blessed and free from fear and from strife,
Where rivers of refreshment flow in their place;
The sweet water of peace, forever, for life.

Proclaim God’s promise. Encourage and embolden the weak and weary. Together, we can call with daring and conviction for those made feeble and bereft of strength.

Be dauntless and bold. Do not fear!
Soon your Savior will appear.
In righteous power, He’ll vindicate,
To raise, save, and liberate.

Yes, Isaiah calls us to courage and beckons us in boldness. “Speak out to the afflicted and burdened.” Long ago, God came on Christmas, on a holy night, born a babe in Jesus Christ. Again, He shall come, in royal right, to quell our grief and strife. The downcast, He will exalt, bringing life to their barren places to deliver them!

The Lord summons Christians of every rank to proclaim God’s gracious promises in their daily doings. Not feeble sounds, they are a bestowal of mercy, for Christ is our hope and redemption. Your utterances may rouse and persuade, for they bear assurance and life from the Almighty. Such moments burst out in life’s junctures and crossings, where believers speak the surety of God’s words of a better eternity.

Your Lord graces you to spread His solace and salvation. Bring to others a beacon of hope in their wildernesses. Your speaking can strengthen them to tarry through the night and empower them to persevere in strife.

The Lord Almighty comes with righteous fury in His wake, turning the desolation of our wilderness into His saving sanctuary. Yes, He will come and free us from our distress, for He alone brings redemption and restoration and is mighty to save. Amen.


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