Read Isaiah 35.1-10
The people of Israel are returning from exile. They are traveling through the trackless Syrian Desert– a long, dry stretch between where they had been, in exile – Babylon, to where they are going, their home land Palestine.
They travel through burning sand, long stretches of barren wasteland with few signs of life beyond their own weakened, but determined bodies. Men and women, young and old, their hands weakening, their knees growing feeble, their eyes squinting from the blinding sun, their lips dry and chapped, no words will form on their mouths. Still, they press on with the dim vision in the back of their minds of a place their ancestors have told them about. A land flowing with milk and honey, where bushes bear fruit, the grass is green and the trees provide shade. Glorious shade. They travel on through the desert with only the image of a better place planted in their minds like a reflection on the water they hope to find.
Suddenly, a voice is heard. It awakens them from their half-conscious, dazed state. It’s the prophet Isaiah. “Look, this wilderness and dry land shall be glad. The desert shall rejoice and blossom. It will rejoice with joy and signing.” Things aren’t as bad as they seem, says Isaiah. God is still in control. God still has the power even to turn this barren wasteland into a plush garden paradise. You shall see the glory of our LORD, the majesty of our God. Our God is with us, strengthening our weak hands, making firm our feeble knees.
How important it is for the people Israel to have a prophet like Isaiah, speaking this encouraging word of the Lord. God is still in control. He will restore those He loves. God is able to do a “new thing” to restore the people, to create a turning point in history, to redeem the land, to rule over the land in peace, with justice. Our faith is in a God powerful enough to turn burning sand into a pool, provide water for the thirsty ground. Our faith is in a God caring enough to provide a highway through the desert, God’s holy way, where we will find safety, joy and gladness.
For Isaiah, this hope is grounded in God’s covenant with Isaiah. For us, we enter this covenant through God’s gracious act sending Jesus Christ into the world. Through Christ, God entered fully into human experience, even suffering pain, loneliness, betrayal, death so that we might be saved. Christ is our hope as we travel through the barren deserts of life.
In Christ, we are redeemed to enjoy life to its fullest and look forward to a life that knows no end. The benefits of redemption are clear – healing for our bodies, our minds, and our spirits. A healed earth where barren and arid land is bright with the sheen of many waters, and loud with the singing of the stream. As God’s redeemed people, we can appreciate the beauty of nature like never before, embracing it not as a thing to be used, but as a living creation, reflecting the beauty and glory of God.
We are redeemed and yet we are still on a journey through this life, a journey that often passes through barren deserts. Like the exiles traveling through the desert, we can look ahead to better days, keep pressing on in faith that God will not abandon us; God will not leave us under the burning sun, or out in the cold. God provides a highway, a path for us to follow, that leads us home, to a place of safety, of joy and gladness.
Jesus Christ is the Way through the barren wasteland into the Promised Land.