Waiting with Isaiah: Waiting for God's Promised Land
Isaiah 35:1-10 & James 5:7-11
This Advent we’ve been “Waiting with Isaiah.” The Prophet Isaiah spoke some pretty amazing promises about the coming Messiah – and all about 700 years before the Messiah would come. God’s people would have to wait to receive and rejoice in God’s promised Savior. Just as God’s people waited, lo, those 700 years, we’ve been learning to wait with Isaiah, and just a few weeks to celebrate the Savior’s Birth. So, how well have we been doing?
Two weeks ago we heard about “God’s Promised Justice.” Since our coming King promises and gives His cross-won justice – His victory over our enemies of sin, death, and Satan – we can learn to wait for God to give us His final victory, His final vindication, for all eternity. And as we wait for that day, we can put off the works of darkness. Last week we heard about “God’s Promised Peace.” When our King came in the flesh, He inaugurated lasting peace between us sinners and our loving God. That peace, which passes all understanding, fills us with encouragement, hope, and harmony as we wait for His full, final, and eternal peace. So, how well are we doing in our waiting?
Let me ask that question another way. Are you just plain tired and worn out – tired of the rat race called “the Holiday season”? Are you already stuffed to the gills from the Christmas goodies and the Christmas luncheons, dinners, and parties? Do you feel absolutely under the gun to get everything done, frantic that it won’t get done, and stretched too thin in too many directions all at once? Are you looking forward to December 25 so that you can just crash and burn and say, “Whew, glad that ‘merry chaos’ is over”? If so, to whatever degree, you haven’t been waiting very well, have you?
Yes, waiting is very difficult for us Americans. Being patient is just not in our cultural DNA. Like children waiting for Grandma and Grandpa to arrive so that we can begin opening presents, we get antsy and fussy if it – any it – takes too long at all.
Perhaps it’s hard for us Christians to wait for God’s promised justice and His promised peace because, well, they don’t seem real enough. Hey, we gotta live in the here and now, Pastor. We gotta be practical and down to earth, you know. That justice stuff, especially from things like sin, death, and the devil, may seem more like a dream than real life. That peace stuff, especially if we can’t see it, may seem more like a Christmas card wish than something real to experience and enjoy.
Isaiah’s words tonight should give the soothing, healing medicine we need. Isaiah promises: “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.” Now that’s more real – a barren, dry land blossoming with vibrant life. Sounds like a real promised land. The prophet continues: “Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; then shall the lame man leap like a deer, and the tongue of the mute sing for joy.” More joyous, real-life stuff – blind people able to see again; deaf people able to hear; limping people able to walk and leap without hindrance; and tongues loosed to sing for joy. It’s a new creation folks. It’s a creation that bubbles forth with good life – life without the problems that we face day to day and at different stages of life. Truly a promised land And, yes, folks, Isaiah promises; it will happen.
And between these great, real-life promises, Isaiah says: “Strengthen the weak hands, and make firm the feeble knees.” My, how we need those words as our weariness leads us to stumble through the “merry chaos” season! “Say to those who have an anxious heart, ‘Be strong; fear not!’” Great words for us who are so anxious about getting everything done and just enduring until December 25! “Behold, your God will come with vengeance, with the recompense of God. He will come and save you.” Normally vengeance is a bad thing, but when it’s God’s vengeance on behalf of His redeemed people, then we can welcome it with open arms. You see, God is our mighty King who comes to rescue us from our prisoner of war camp in Satan’s domain.
You see, dear friends, our worries, our weariness, our impatience with crazy drivers, with shopping mall clerks, and with each other show that we are not waiting so well. In fact they show that, spiritually, we still live in Satan’s prisoner of war camp called this fallen world. If we are stressed out and anxious, it’s because we are diverting our eyes from our Coming King. If we are impatient with fellow Christians, loved ones, and friends, it’s because we falsely think that all of our efforts at creating the “perfect Christmas” (again, this year) will create heaven on earth, at least for a day or two.
But, dear friends, Isaiah promises our real heaven on earth, our real new creation, our real promised land. It all comes when our Lord God comes as the Infant in the manger to save us. It all comes when the Son of God takes on our flesh and blood to restore us to life in His kingdom. It all comes when Jesus Christ spills that innocent blood and has His perfect body broken on a cross to rescue us from being prisoners in Satan’s war against the Triune God. Our Lord Jesus comes to inaugurate His eternal “promised land,” a land where we need not worry over and succumb to crowded malls, forgotten gifts, hectic schedules, or overindulging. You see, God’s promised land is where Jesus gives His forgiveness, His life, and His rescue from our self-centered concerns. God’s promised land is not in the shopping mall or around the Christmas tree; it’s in the Church. It’s where the Son of God stretches out His arms, even as they are nailed to a tree, and says, “Come, I will give you rest.” It’s the promise that Isaiah gave some 2700 years ago, and it’s still true: “The ransomed of the LORD shall return and come to Zion with singing; everlasting joy shall be upon their heads; they shall obtain gladness and joy, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.” Did you hear that? In God’s promised land of Jesus and His Church, our sorrow and sighing shall flee away. What replaces our anxieties and our stresses? The singing, the everlasting joy, the gladness that our God, that Infant small, has conquered our sins, our death, and the devil himself.
And so, dear friends, we once again hear very timely and wise words to help us wait, this time from St. James, the brother of our Lord: “Be patient, therefore, brothers, until the coming of the Lord.” We can be patient, because our God has come in the flesh. As a farmer plants his crop and waits for rain and soil to work together to bear the fruits of the crop, we can wait for our God to deliver us from our self-inflicted “merry chaos.” St. James continues: “You also, be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand.” Yes, when you keep your eyes on your Coming King, the anxieties of “merry chaos” fade away.
And James even gives an additional bit of sage, sanctified advice: “Do not grumble against one another, brothers, so that you may not be judged; behold, the Judge is standing at the door.” Yes, the King is coming. He has come in flesh and blood. He continues to come in the preaching of His forgiveness and life. He continues to come in the very Body and Blood on the Altar. And He will come again to rescue us from this fallen land and bring us to our eternal promised land. With such great promises already given and yet to come, why grumble against one another? We get to spend eternity together, with our God who is Love and with each other. We get to celebrate His mercy and compassion now and into eternity. There’s no need to let the world’s chaos get the better of us. As James also says: “you have seen the purpose of the Lord, how the Lord is compassionate and merciful.” Amen.